As protests over the deaths of Freddie Gray, Tamir Rice and Walter Scott simmer on the East Coast, Los Angeles may see the end to one troubling case of apparent excessive use of police force. In a move that undermines the city's police commissioner, the civilian-led Los Angeles Police Commission concluded an officer used excessive force against Ezell Ford, an unarmed and mentally ill black man who was shot to death in August 2014 while walking along a South L.A. sidewalk. Ford's death occurred just two days after the fatal police-involved shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri — the death that arguably triggered the Black Lives Matter movement.
At a civilian oversight hearing on Tuesday, the L.A. Police Commission ruled that Officer Sharlton Wampler, who fatally shot Ford the night of Aug. 11, violated police conduct by using both lethal and non-lethal excessive force, according to a statement provided by commission president Steve Soboroff. This ruling contradicts L.A. Police Chief Charlie Beck, who previously stated that Wampler drew his gun because he feared his life was at risk, and did not violate any police policies in doing so.
But while the police commission said in a statement on the hearing that Wampler's fear may have been authentic, the officer violated policy by approaching Ford. The L.A. Police Commission also concluded that both Wampler and his partner that night, Antonio Villegas, acted improperly by drawing their weapons in their confrontation that eventually led to Ford's death.
"Our review of this incident has been intensive," Soboroff said in a statement. "This Commission takes its responsibility to the community and the Los Angeles Police Department very seriously when considering incidents in which Los Angeles Police Officers use deadly force."
"The determination as to the criminal culpability for the involved officers is the responsibility of the Los Angeles County District Attorney and not within the authority of the Chief of Police or Police Commission," Soboroff said. However, he added it's up to the police commissioner to decide what disciplinary matters, if any, the police department should take against Wampler and his partner.
Following Tuesday's oversight hearing, Beck said he respects "the process and the decision made in this matter." The police commissioner also praised his department's thorough investigation in his public statement:
The LAPD is known throughout the country for its exceptional thoroughness and expertise in investigating officer involved shootings. Those investigations go through multiple levels of review culminating in a final decision by the Police Commission.
But it's unknown at this time how Beck will punish Wampler and Villegas, or if he will hand down any punishment at all. According to the Los Angeles Times, Beck could suspend the officers, fire them outright, or have them go through more training.
L.A.'s mayor Eric Garcetti praised the police commission's findings at a news conference held Tuesday. "The system worked the way it was supposed to," he said. The mayor added that "Ford's life mattered."
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