By Charlene Muhammad CHARLENEM
LOS ANGELES–The widow of Leroy Hill, slain days before he was supposed to give his deposition in the fatal officerinvolved shooting of Ezell Ford, an unarmed, mentally disabled Black man, filed a wrongful death lawsuit in conjunction with a request for the court to award more than $16 million in damages.
Alice Hill’s attorneys, the Orland Law Group, announced the multimillion dollar demand during a press conference Jan. 15 in front of City Hall. Her late husband’s testimony presented a conflict of interest for the City of Los Angeles, who could be held liable for Mr. Ford’s death, attorneys said. Mr. Hill’s death raised suspicion among some activists. He was an eyewitness in the fatal shooting of Mr. Ford by police.
LAPD Officers Sharlton Wampler and Antonio Villegas shot and killed Mr. Ford, 25 on Aug. 11, 2014. Police Chief Charlie Beck and LAPD Inspector General Alex Bustamante found the officers acted within policy. Afterward, the LAPD Commission ruled Ofc. Wampler had violated policy, and Ofc. Villegas acted within policy. To date, no disciplinary action has been issued regarding Ofc. Wampler.
Mr. Ford’s parents filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the City of L.A., District Attorney Jacquelyn Lacey, Deputy Chief Earl Paysinger, Alex Bustamante, LAPD Inspector General, City Councilman Curren Price, Mayor Eric Garcetti, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck and Mr. Bustamante.
Ms. Hill’s lawsuit filed her lawsuit on Dec. 28 against the same defendants. Immediately after her husband stepped forward, they had a duty to “advise him of all options available to provide for the protection of his safety,” she alleged.
According to the lawsuit, defense attorneys in the Ford lawsuit notified Mr. Hill of his deposition, but within days, while sitting in a car with his wife and two others shortly before midnight, he was killed on March 13, 2015 on the same block officers shot Mr. Ford.
Javier Aginiga and another man not yet located at press time, allegedly fired into the car, striking only Mr. Hill. Mr. Aginiga was arrested a week later. His court hearing is scheduled for Jan. 19.
“Projecting ‘fear’ as official confirmation of ghetto instinct, Mayor Garcetti, Chief Beck and District Attorney Lacey put a mark on Leroy Hill and the multiple neighborhood witnesses of LAPD Newton Division Gang Task Force’s murder of Ezell Ford with the dramatic announcement they ‘should not fear for their safety.’ Who said they should?’” questioned Jubilee Shine, a grassroots L. A.-based activist with the Coalition for Community Control Over the Police to The Final Call.
On Nov. 13, 2014, Chief Beck, Mayor Garcetti, and other city officials issued a call for witnesses to Ezell Ford’s shooting during a press conference at LAPD headquarters. D. A. Lacey stated her office would welcome statements from those who didn’t want to talk to LAPD about the shooting, said Mr. Shine. But more than 500 days since Mr. Ford’s murder, her office remains officially mute on the homicide, he charged.
“Local authorities seek to pass Hill’s murder off onto intra-national gang conflict … the Coalition for Community Control Over the Police is suspicious of this accusation and demands federal investigation into Leroy Hill’s execution in his own neighborhood, days before his deposition as direct witness to the admittedly unjustified killing of Ezell Ford,” said Mr. Shine.
Before his death, Mr. Hill spoke with The Final Call about what he observed the day Ezell Ford was shot and killed by police.
“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,” said Mr. Hill. He also said he did not hear police say anything before shots rang out.
“This has all the characteristics of a classic conspiracy to cover up a murder by eliminating the primary eyewitness to the crime,” stated Spencer Scott, executive director of the Black Defense Network, an L.A.-based organization which works to combat police brutality.
“He was left alone to be murdered himself in the same neighborhood. … It strains credulity to believe this was a purely random act, yet LAPD released their standard statement: ‘probably gang-related, the killers have not been identified,’” said Mr. Scott.
“They even had the temerity to then ask the community to again come forward with information on the Hill murder. Who would take that poison bait? This smells really bad.”