An unarmed, 25-year-old Black man killed by police last summer in South L.A. was shot three times at close range, according to an autopsy report released today.
Ezell Ford was hit on his right side, back and right arm, according to the medical examiner. The doctor wrote in the report that a muzzle imprint on Ford’s back suggested close contact with officers, which correspondents with their version of events.
Ford was walking home on West 65th Street near Broadway on Aug. 11 when two Los Angeles Police Department officers approached him, according to a police statement.
Ford tackled one of the officers and attempted to grab his gun, prompting the officer to reach for a backup weapon and fire. The officer’s partner also shot at Ford, hitting him in the back.
The case ignited outrage on social media and marches throughout Los Angeles after witnesses were quoted in the news disputing the police accounts. Ford’s family said he was mentally challenged, and that the officers of nearby Newton Division should have been aware. The incident also took on added significance coming two days after Michael Brown, a young Black man, died at the hands of a White officer in Missouri.
When Police Chief Charlie Beck put a hold on the autopsy report, saying he wanted to let witnesses to come forward without being influenced by media reports, protests continued to flare up.
Then a Missouri Grand Jury decided to not indict Brown’s killer, prompting waves of protests across the country. This was soon followed by a New York Grand Jury’s decision to not indict the officers responsible for killing another young Black man, Eric Garner. In Los Angeles, Ford’s death was invoked in many marches calling for an end to police brutality.
In one demonstration that began at Newton Division station and proceeded more than three miles to the spot where Ford died, 30 protestors chanted, “The whole damn system is guilty as hell,” while hoisting signs declaring: “Ferguson is everywhere.”
In the wake of events in Ferguson, which quickly turned violent, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti ordered the “security hold” on the autopsy be lifted before January.
In a press conference this afternoon, Beck said the LAPD has had difficulty contacting witnesses. Although the attorney representing Ford’s family provided officers with a list of witnesses, some have not cooperated with the investigation, which remains underway.
“Let the system work,” he said. “We will find out the truth of what happened on that August night.”
Once the investigation is complete, the District Attorney will examine the case along with the Board of Police Commissioners, a civilian group that determines whether officer-involved shootings are consistent with policy.
Ford’s family has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the department and the two officers responsible for his death. They also filed a $75 million claim against the city, which can serve as a precursor to a state lawsuit.
According to NBC Southern California, the family lawsuit said the two LAPD officers — Sharlton Wampler and Antonio Villegas — knew Ford from the neighborhood and were aware he had mental problems.
The autopsy is available below.