In Los Angeles, another case of “state sanctioned anti-black violence” that most likely wasn’t.
On Monday the L.A. County coroner’s office released the long-awaited autopsy report on Ezell Ford, a 25-year-old unarmed black man, shot and killed by two LAPD officers on August 11. According to the report, Ford was shot three times: in the right abdomen, the right arm, and the back.
That lines up with the report of the officers involved, who claim that Ford — who was known among locals to be mentally ill — walked away when the officers tried to stop him as he walked on the sidewalk. When the officers followed, he became violent. As presented in the coroner’s report:
The officers followed Mr. Ford on the sidewalk to a nearby driveway when Mr. Ford crouched in between a car and a row of bushes. One of the officers reached for Mr. Ford when Mr. Ford suddenly turned, grabbed the officer and forced the officer to the ground. While on top of the officer, Mr. Ford grabbed the officer’s handgun and attempted to remove the gun from its holster. The officer yelled out to his partner that Mr. Ford had his gun. The officer’s partner then fired two rounds striking Mr. Ford. At about the same time, the officer on the ground while on his back grabbed his backup weapon, reached around Mr. Ford and fired one shot at close range striking Mr. Ford in the back.
The officers subsequently took Mr. Ford into custody and requested emergency medical aid from the Los Angeles Fire Department. LAFD paramedics arrived and transported Mr. Ford to California Hospital where his death was pronounced at 10:10 p.m.
In the days after the shooting, protesters took to the streets in the Florence area of South Los Angeles, pointing to the similarities between Ford’s case and that of Michael Brown, shot and killed on August 9. And as in Brown’s case, the accounts of some witnesses and those of the police differ enormously.
Dorene Henderson, a family friend of Ford’s, “saw no struggle between the officers and Ford,” according to the Los Angeles Times. Ford “was lying on the ground and complying with the officers’ commands when he was shot three times,” his mother, Tritobia Ford, told KLTA-5 News. Another witness, who identified himself as Ford’s cousin, said that police “laid him out and for whatever reason, they shot him in the back, knowing mentally, he has complications.”
While the autopsy report reveals little about a struggle between the officers and Ford (though abrasions on Ford’s left arm, left hand, and left shoulder could have been caused by a struggle), it provides no evidence to contradict the officers’ claims. The entry wound on Ford’s right abdomen casts doubt on witnesses’ claim that he was lying prone when he was shot, as does the angle of the bullet wound in his right arm, which entered from the outside and exited approximately horizontally, as if he were being shot at from the side. Those wounds are, however, consistent with the officers’ account. Also, the coroner reported a muzzle imprint on Ford’s skin at the site of the gunshot wound in his back, consistent with the claim that the officer on the ground “reached around Mr. Ford and fired one shot at close range” into Ford’s back.
The autopsy is, of course, only “one element of the ongoing investigation,” as LAPD chief Charlie Beck told KTLA-5 News:
“An autopsy does not prescribe motivation, nor does it indicate propriety,” Beck said.
The civilian Board of Police Commissioners will make a final determination about whether the shooting was within the department’s use of force policy, Beck said. That decision will come at the end of an investigation that was expected to last several more months, he said.
The LAPD’s Force Investigation Division, Office of the Inspector General and the county District Attorney’s Office were all investigating, Beck said. The DA’s office will determine whether the shooting “met legal standards,” according to the chief.
Since the release of the autopsy report, protesters have returned to the streets, briefly halting traffic on a Los Angeles freeway on Monday evening.
Without a doubt, Ford’s mental illness — he had “the mental capacity of an 8-year-old,” an area resident told the Los Angeles Daily News — heightens the tragedy of August’s fatal encounter. But as the evidence stands now, the facts do not support the heated rhetoric.