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Los Angeles Police Board Says Officers Involved In Ezell Ford Shooting Violated Policy

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Next to Los Angeles, where a civilian police commission has gone against the chief and the department's internal investigators. It ruled that an officer acted improperly in the killing of an unarmed black man named Ezell Ford last year. From member station KPCC, Frank Stoltze reports.

FRANK STOLTZE, BYLINE: The decision by the five-member panel came in a closed-door session. But before, during a raucous public comment meeting, LA police commissioners found themselves shouting to be heard over chants of black lives matter.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Can I just make a - excuse me.

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Unintelligible) - black lives - (unintelligible)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Excuse me. I would like to make a statement.

STOLTZE: Back in August, two LAPD officers shot Ford in South LA as they were trying to question him on the street. Chief Charlie Beck and the department's inspector general deemed the shooting justified, mainly because there was evidence Ford grabbed for one of their guns. But in a rare rebuke, the civilian panel found one cop, a 13-year veteran named Sharlton Wampler, who got into a physical altercation with Ford, failed to follow a range of LAPD policies and never should have fired his gun. After the decision was announced, Melina Abdullah of Black Lives Matter said she was stunned.

MELINA ABDULLAH: You know, I expected them not to do the right thing, and I'm just getting choked up by it.

STOLTZE: The Ezell Ford case has become LA's symbol of the national debate over policing. He was black, he was unarmed, and he was poor. And he had a mental illness. His mother said that 25-year-old Ford often roamed the streets, but was harmless. She had pleaded with the panel to condemn the officer's actions.

TRITOBIA FORD: Now, today's decision shows that the justice system, if run by decent and honest people, will find the right answer. I asked that everyone maintain calm and make sure that this important message will not be lost in the sea of anger and violence.

STOLTZE: The streets of Los Angeles were quiet last night. But while the commission decides whether a shooting is justified, the chief decides on any discipline, and Beck believes the officers acted within policy. Activist Shamell Bell said she won't be satisfied until the chief metes out tough discipline.

SHAMELL BELL: What we should have heard is that the officers are guilty, and they need to be fired. And so if you're not hearing that, I think that justice hasn't been (laughter) done.

STOLTZE: The union that represents rank and file LAPD cops issued a statement saying it is incredibly disappointed by the decision and accused the commission of allowing protesters and external political influences to impact their judgment. It said the panel made the decision solely to avoid civil unrest. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti would not comment on what should happen to the officers. Instead, he said the systems put in place during years of reform are working.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

ERIC GARCETTI: Nobody's above the law. Everybody can make mistakes. And we've seen that there's accountability in this city.

STOLTZE: In a separate investigation, the LA County district attorney, as it does with all shootings, is in the process of deciding whether to file criminal charges against the officers. For NPR News, I'm Frank Stoltze in Los Angeles. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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