LOS ANGELES – A South Los Angeles man who was killed in a police shooting in August was shot in the back at close range during what Los Angeles Police Department Chief Charlie Beck described Monday as a violent struggle over an officer’s gun.
The new details about the shooting came as an autopsy report released Monday showed that Ezell Ford was struck three times, including once so closely in the back that the muzzle of the officer’s gun left an imprint.
Ford, 25, who was mentally ill, also was shot in the right side and right arm, according to the autopsy report, which had been withheld by the LAPD for months after the shooting.
At a news conference Monday, Beck offered a narrative of the incident based on the two police officers’ accounts. He cautioned that the picture was incomplete because the internal investigation will take several more months, and no eyewitnesses have spoken to police.
According to Beck, Ford forced a police officer to the ground and grabbed the officer’s gun. The officer yelled to his partner that his gun had been taken, Beck said, and the partner fired two rounds at Ford. The first officer used a backup weapon to reach around Ford’s body and shoot him in the back.
Beck seconded policing experts who said that autopsy reports are of limited value by themselves. But he also said the report did not contradict the officers’ statements that one of them was wrestling with Ford for his handgun.
“I believe in my Police Department, but I also believe we’re as good as we can be because we carefully scrutinize everything we do,” Beck said. “We will find out what happened on that August night.”
The report’s release comes after a wave of nationwide protests against several recent deaths of unarmed black men at the hands of police, including Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and Eric Garner in New York City.
Monday, people gathered in Leimert Park and in front of LAPD headquarters invoked those deaths while zeroing in on the disclosure that Ford, who was also black, was shot in the back.
“That does not bode well for the LAPD,” said Jeff Page, 49, a skid row community organizer. “He wasn’t even facing them when that shot was fired.”
Steven Lerman, an attorney for the Ford family, said the autopsy report shows that the shooting was unjustifiable, strengthening the family’s civil lawsuit against the Police Department and the city.
Ford’s mother, Tritobia Ford, was overwhelmed with tears and anger when they went over the report together, Lerman said.
“Anything he says is self-serving,” Lerman said of Beck. “What the report shows is that Ezell was shot in the back and killed.”
But experts on police shootings said the fact that Ford was shot in the back does not necessarily mean the officers acted improperly.
Ed Obayashi, an Inyo County sheriff’s deputy who is also an attorney and an expert on police use of force, said that while some people may be troubled by the fact that Ford was shot in the back, “That’s not unusual. It happens all the time.”
Monday evening, Ford’s mother, her hand shaking, lit candles at a mural bearing her son’s likeness near where he had been shot.
She declined to comment, but Ford’s parents previously have said their son was diagnosed with depression, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. He went from a social boy who dreamed of being a basketball star to a withdrawn young man who was known for cadging cigarettes and wandering his neighborhood. He once walked to Long Beach for no apparent reason, his parents said.
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