By Charlene Muhammad CHARLENEM
LOS ANGELES (FinalCall.com) – Attorneys for the family of a 25-year-old mentally ill, unarmed Black man shot by two Los Angeles Police Department officers were preparing to file a state and federal wrongful death lawsuit at press time.
It is alleged the officers involved in the shooting, Sharlton Wampler and Antonio Villegas, knew Mr. Ford well before the fatal encounter. The officers knew of Mr. Ford’s mental state, his neighborhood routine, and that he was no threat to anyone said some community residents. The law offices of Steven A. Lerman and Fred C. Sayre were scheduled to hold a press conference Sept. 16, in front of the United States Courthouse to announce the filing.
The LAPD originally refused to release the names of the police officers who shot Mr. Ford August 11, claiming concerns of threats to the officers. Jasmyne Cannick, a political analyst and communications strategist, released the officers’ names on her website, and a day later, the LAPD followed suit.
Ceebo, a 22-year-old rapper, said he grew up with Mr. Ford and echoed residents’ allegations, especially after hearing the names of the officers in question.
“All the officers around here knew him. Sometimes, if they did see him and they were worried about him clear across the street or something, if they happened to hem him up and mess with him, they’d just call his mom and tell her we got Ezell Ford over here, you can come pick him up,” Ceebo told The Final Call.
“He knew to give him his mom’s name,” he said.
“Once they told us the names, Wampler … we know him. He knew exactly who Ezell Ford was,” Ceebo said. He also said there was another incident involving Ofc. Wampler days before Mr. Ford’s death.
According to Ceebo, the officer attempted to “roll up and jump out on a couple of guys without warning” including himself. “When he jumped out on everybody, he tried to pull his gun out first without saying anything to anybody and dropped the clip out of his gun,” he said.
“Everyone ran, so he was mad, and I guess he had seen Easy (Mr. Ford) in the area, and that’s why it was so crazy that he just happened to do that. They were very mad at us over here for that whole little incident, because the cop dropped the clip.” Ceebo argued that the police have an authority problem.
When Ceebo got word of the shooting, he rushed to the scene to find chaos, he said. Mr. Ford’s parents were trying to ask police what happened, but got no answers, according to Ceebo.
“They started trying to grab her, tackle her, slam him … I saw them pulling out M16 weapons. I was coming up to it and they didn’t see this because they were focused on the officers in front of them, but the officers that were behind those officers were pulling out M16s and shotguns,” he told The Final Call.
The entire scene was chaotic and contradictory to the type of person Mr. Ford was and the type of life he lived, he added. Leroy Hill, 46 agreed and said he saw the entire incident that resulted in Mr. Ford’s death.
“I was sitting in the car with my wife. … I saw the police approaching and merge in on my guy Ezell who was walking down the street and they jumped out of the car,” Mr. Hill said.
“Mind you, Ezell’s hands are up but he’s still walking. Both doors open at the same time and the driver jumped out, raced over there and tackled Ezell to the ground,” he continued.
Mr. Hill told The Final Call he did not hear police say anything before shots rang out. “I heard a shot. Boom! And then another shot, boom! And then a delay, and then I hear an officer tell the other officer, ‘Shoot him!’ That’s when you heard another shot, pow!”
Afterward, Mr. Hill said the officer on the passenger side jumped out and started waving his gun at people who began to gather. Neighbors knew Mr. Ford was on his routine walk, he said.
“It was just crazy and uncalled for … He died for nothing. He should still be here right now. He’s a good guy, a beautiful soul who didn’t bother nobody and we miss him dearly,” Mr. Hill said.
“When we see the police now, everybody’s like we don’t know if they’re going to kill us. We don’t know what they’re going to do and everybody’s walking on pins and needles because it’s a tragedy and it’s for nothing,” he added.
At an August 19 town hall meeting at Paradise Baptist Church, concerned citizens, and activists chided and sought answers from LAPD Chief Charlie Beck. What probable cause did police have to stop Mr. Ford in the first place was a number one question raised over and over again, most poignantly by Cheryl Dorsey, a retired LAPD sergeant.
Chief Beck said the answer would only come through a thorough investigation, which is still pending. “I will not give you half a story … and the standard as you know is reasonable suspicion and not probable cause,” he told Ms. Dorsey.
Mr. Ford’s family laid him to rest after a funeral at First AME Church August 30, but their struggle for justice continues. Family, friends, community and those that knew Mr. Ford also want answers.
“Anybody could look at any picture of Ezell and see the innocence in his eyes and just tell, especially once you figure out that he was mentally ill that this was very unnecessary, very unnecessary,” said Ceebo.