Despite public appeals by the city’s mayor, the county district attorney and others, no new witnesses to the fatal Los Angeles police shooting of a mentally ill black man have come forward to help investigators, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck said Thursday.
Beck told reporters that the department is continuing to ask the county coroner’s office not to release details about the death of 25-year-old Ezell Ford Jr. while investigators seek new witnesses. He said it is important for any witnesses not to be influenced by details about the incident that they could have learned about in the news before they talk to police.
Ford was shot Aug. 11 by two LAPD officers in South L.A. after the officers reported he got into a physical struggle with one of them. Amid calls for transparency in the investigation by neighborhood activists, Mayor Eric Garcetti said he has ordered the chief to release the coroner’s autopsy report on Ford by year’s end whether or not other witnesses come forward.
Beck reiterated Thursday that the report would be made public by year’s end.
“Detectives are still working diligently to see if we can find some other witnesses we can interview and keep those interviews untainted by the release of the autopsy,” Beck said. “But we will only wait so long and we are working with the attorney for the family to see if we can facilitate some interviews with some folks they claim were witnesses.”
Garcetti, Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey, city Councilman Curren Price and Beck last month urged witnesses to come forward. Beck said he still holds out hope that witnesses cooperating with the Ford family attorney would still speak to the department.
According to Beck, the autopsy contains “significant evidence that could add tremendous credibility” to whatever witnesses tell investigators.
Attorney Steven Lerman, who represents the Ford family, said the shooting was unlawful and that his investigators have found witnesses to the killing.
The LAPD said in the days after the shooting that Ford was walking home on West 65th Street near Broadway when he was approached by two gang officers assigned to the LAPD’s Newton Division. Police allege that Ford tackled one of the officers and reached for his gun, prompting both officers to open fire. But a friend of Ford’s family who said she saw part of the incident told The Times she saw no struggle.
Some South L.A. residents say they are frustrated by how little information has been disclosed by police about the killing and accuse the department of failing to make good on Beck’s promise of transparency in the weeks after the shooting. The South Central Neighborhood Council unanimously passed a resolution urging Price to direct the LAPD to release Ford’s autopsy report and the autopsy report of another man who died after a physical altercation with LAPD officers.
Omar Abrego, 37, died Aug. 3, about 12 hours after he was arrested by two gang unit sergeants assigned to the department’s Newton Division.
The neighborhood council’s resolution says the lack of information surrounding the deaths “has led to increased concerns in our community that the LAPD is trying to conceal the truth of how these men died.”
“The families and the community have a right to know how and why these men were killed,” the resolution said.