LOS ANGELES (AP) - The City of Los Angeles agreed Wednesday to pay $1.5 million to the family of a mentally ill black man who was shot and killed in 2014 by Los Angeles police during a struggle over an officer’s gun.
The settlement in a civil rights lawsuit brought by the family of Ezell Ford, 25, came two weeks after prosecutors said the two Los Angeles Police Department officers acted lawfully and in self-defense when they shot and killed Ford in August 2014. More than a year ago, a police oversight board found the officers had no legal reason to stop Ford, violating department policy.
The Los Angeles City Council approved the settlement with Ford’s family on Wednesday with a 10-2 vote. Federico Sayre, an attorney for Ford’s family, said they were relieved the settlement was finalized after significant opposition from the officers’ union.
Los Angeles prosecutors said Officers Sharlton Wampler and Antonio Villegas were in fear for their lives when they shot Ford on Aug. 11, 2014, as Ford struggled with Wampler over the officer’s holstered gun. The shooting happened days after that of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and led to a series of Black Lives Matter protests in Los Angeles.
Authorities said the officers had approached Ford, whose family has said he struggled with an array of mental illnesses, after seeing him in a known gang area, but said Ford walked away and the officers believed he was trying to discard an illegal substance.
Prosecutors said Wampler had placed his hands on Ford’s shoulders before Ford spun around and grabbed the officer at the waist. Ford fell to the ground with the officer and the two started tussling as Ford tried to grab Wampler’s gun from the holster on his waist, prosecutors said.
Villegas shot Ford twice during the struggle, but Ford continued to fight with Wampler, Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey said last month. Wampler was eventually able to retrieve his backup weapon, which was affixed to his bulletproof vest, reached around Ford’s body and shot him once in the back, she said.
After prosecutors reached their determination in the case, Ford’s mother, Tritobia Ford, told reporters there would “be no justice” for her son. She said the officers “just got away with murder.”
The officers’ union decried the city council’s decision to settle the case, arguing the city should have fought the “baseless civil suit.”
“This fiscally irresponsible pattern of settling civil claims, in spite of legal and investigative findings supporting police officers’ actions, is sending the wrong message to trial lawyers that the city’s treasury is nothing more than an ATM,” said Craig Lally, the president of the Los Angeles Police Protective League.
“I don’t think the police union ever believes police officers do anything wrong,” Sayre said in response to the union’s statement.
The Los Angeles Police Commission ruled in June 2015 that the officers had no reason to stop and question Ford, and that violation of department policy led to an altercation that ended with Ford’s death. The commission found that Wampler was unjustified in shooting Ford and Villegas was wrong to draw his weapon but acted appropriately in firing it because he believed Wampler’s life was in danger.
The officers have been on administrative duty since the shooting.
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