Officers Justified In Fatal Shooting Of Unarmed, Mentally Ill Man, LAPD Finds

Two police officers who shot and killed an unarmed, mentally ill man in August were justified in their use of force, say both the LAPD and the department's civilian watchdog.

According to sources with knowledge of the case who spoke with the L.A. Times, investigators say there is evidence indicating Ezell Ford fought for one of the officer's weapons during the confrontation. However, the Police Commission, the civilian watchdog that has final say on all serious uses of force by LAPD officers, found fault in how the officers approached Ford before the shooting.

"Why didn't they just allow him to keep walking? He wasn't doing anything. He wasn't committing any crime. He wasn't bothering anybody," said Ford's mother, Tritobia, when the Times told her of the LAPD's and Police Commission's conclusions.

"He was minding his own business."

Department investigators found Ezell Ford's DNA on one of the officer's guns, suggesting he had fought for control of the weapon during the confrontation with Officers Sharlton Wampler and Antonio Villegas. Scratches were also found on Ford and Wampler's hands, along with Wampler's gun holster.

Although the Police Commission also found the shooting justified, Inspector General Bustamante's report says it is unclear whether both officers had enough justification to approach Ford and try to detain when he was walking down a South Los Angeles street on the night of August 11. When they reached Ford, Wampler placed his hand on him, which Bustamante says was unacceptable.

According to sources who spoke with the paper, both officers thought Ford was trying to dispose of narcotics as he was walking down the street. The LAPD has never officially said whether narcotics were found.

Police say after being approached by officers, the 24-year old Ford, who had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, got into a violent confrontation with the two officers and brought one of them down to the ground. During the struggle, Ford allegedly reached for the officer's gun.

Autopsy results found that Ford was shot three times by officers, including once in the back and once in the abdomen. The gunshot wound in his back had muzzle imprints, which suggested a shooting at close range.

Bustamante is expected to recommend that the officers be faulted for their tactics through the encounter. According to the L.A. Times, in cases where deadly force was found to be justified but the tactics were flawed, Chief Beck usually has the officers undergo retraining instead of being punished.

Both Bustamante and an LAPD spokesman declined to comment on the findings, pending the commission's ruling. The Police Commission is expected to discuss the situation on Tuesday.

Happening two days after the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, Ezell Ford's death became a local rallying cry against police killings.