LOS ANGELES (CNS) – Ezell Ford, whose shooting death by Los Angeles police sparked months of protests and calls by community activists for a transparent investigation, was shot once in the right side of his back, once in the right arm and once in the right abdomen, according to an autopsy released Monday.
According to the report, which was released after months of being subject to a security hold imposed by the Los Angeles Police Department, the gunshot wounds to the back and the abdomen were both fatal.
Ford, 25, was pronounced dead in an operating room at California Hospital Medical Center, according to the report.
The autopsy noted that the gunshot wound on Ford’s back had “muzzle imprint,” indicating the shot was fired at close range. It also states that Ford had marijuana in his system.
Los Angeles Police Department Chief Charlie Beck urged residents not to jump to conclusions about the shooting based on the autopsy, calling the report “a piece of a much larger, more detailed investigation.”
“An autopsy is an important piece,” he said. “An autopsy shows manner and cause of death. But an autopsy does not proscribe motivation nor does it indicate propriety, in this case, was it a legal shooting or not.”
The chief also stressed that while no conclusions have been reached about whether the shooting was justified, “there is nothing in the coroner’s report that is inconsistent with the statements given to us by the officers.”
Ford’s autopsy had been on hold while the LAPD continued its investigation into the Aug. 11 shooting. In recent weeks, community activists have demanded the release of the autopsy, and last month, Mayor Eric Garcetti vowed the report would be made public by the end of the year.
Beck said the department placed a hold on the report so investigators could “locate and interview witnesses to the incident who are not influenced by public reports of the coroner’s findings.”
Days after the shooting in the 200 block of West 65th Street, Los Angeles police said Ford tackled one of two officers who had approached him, and Ford reached for the officer’s gun. The officers — Sharlton Wampler and Antonio Villegas — both opened fire.
Beck gave a more detailed description, saying the officers spotted Ford on a sidewalk and approached him, but Ford walked away and appeared to be trying to conceal his hands.
When the officers caught up to him, one of the officers “reached for Mr. Ford, when Mr. Ford suddenly turned and grabbed the officer, forcing him to the ground,” Beck said.
“While on top of the officer, Mr. Ford grabbed the officer’s handgun and attempted to remove the gun from the officer’s holster. The officer yelled to his partner that Mr. Ford had his gun. The officer’s partner then fired two rounds, striking Mr. Ford. At about the same time, the officer on the ground, while on his back, grabbed his backup weapon, reached around Mr. Ford and fired one shot at close range, striking Mr. Ford in the back,” Beck said.
Police initially said the officers approached the unarmed black man because he was making “suspicious movements.”
Ford’s family filed a $75 million federal lawsuit against the city in September, contending that Ford was shot while complying with police orders to lay on the ground.
The family’s attorney, Steven Lerman, said Ford was “mentally challenged,” a fact known to the officers, and was not doing anything wrong when he was stopped. He also alleged the two officers involved in the shooting were “poorly trained” and have a documented “pattern and practice” of reckless conduct on the streets.
Following the release of the autopsy, Lerman said he was “completely outraged, but not surprised, that the fatal round to the back of my client’s son killed him.”
“As I’ve said all along, this is evidence that Mr. Ford was unlawfully and unjustifiably shot by police,” Lerman said. “It supports our theory of the case that this shooting is way out of policy and a horrible example of excessive force gone crazy.”
Wampler, a 12-year veteran of the LAPD, and Villegas, an eight-year veteran, were both reassigned to administrative duties following the shooting.
Tyler Izen, president of the Los Angeles Police Protective League, the union representing LAPD officers, said the autopsy “provides one set of facts among many hundreds being collected and assessed in the ongoing investigation concerning Ezell Ford.”
Citing Sunday night’s shooting at a pair of LAPD officers in South Los Angeles, Izen stressed that officers are “put directly in harm’s way every day.”
“However, no officer goes to work with the intent of using force, much less deadly force, but force may become necessary when there is an objectively reasonable certainty that there could be injury to themselves or someone else,” Izen said. “As tragic as these situations are, law enforcement officers absolutely have the right to defend their life or the life of another.”
Police have repeatedly asked for witnesses to the shooting to come forward. LAPD Inspector General Alexander Bustamante said earlier this year that only one person had come to police to discuss the case — despite community claims that witnesses disputed the police version of the shooting.
A friend of Ford’s family told the Los Angeles Times she witnessed part of the confrontation and never saw a struggle.
Beck and Mayor Eric Garcetti today renewed their call for witnesses to come forward. Beck said the investigation is “far from over,” and it could be “another several months” before it reaches the Police Commission.
Beck noted that while investigators have spoken to a variety of people, they have yet to find any “civilian eyewitnesses to the actual act.”
Garcetti said he wanted Ford’s autopsy released “because transparency is key to the trust between the LAPD and the people they serve.”
” That’s why a full and impartial investigation is ongoing,” Garcetti said. “That’s why witnesses must come forward without delay. And that’s why violence in our streets or against the men and women of the Los Angeles Police Department will not be tolerated.”
Ford’s shooting occurred two days after Michael Brown, an 18-year-old black man, was fatally shot by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, touching off a series of protests across the country.