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Family of Ezell Ford reaches conditional settlement in fatal police shooting case

Mahalia Clark holds a framed collage of photos and keepsakes of her great-nephew Ezell Ford.
Sharon McNary/KPCC
In this file photo, Mahalia Clark holds a framed collage of photos and keepsakes of her great-nephew Ezell Ford. Ford's family has reached a conditional settlement with the city of Los Angeles, according to court records obtained by KPCC.

The family of Ezell Ford, an unarmed black man fatally shot by police in August 2014, has reached a conditional settlement with the city of Los Angeles.

The agreement was reached late last month, and L.A. County Superior Court Judge Rita Miller signed the order on Oct. 27, according to court documents obtained by KPCC.

"Any settlement with the city of Los Angeles has to be approved by the City Council and until that is accomplished, there is no settlement," said Federico Sayre, the attorney representing the Ford family.

"It's been a very long road for the Ford family, and this understanding (between the parties) gives them hope that matter is coming to an end and they will be relieved of this ongoing stress and pressure in their lives," Sayre said. "They were not looking to rehashing this in court."

Terms of the agreement were not disclosed in court records.

"I am unable to comment at this time," L.A. City Attorney spokesman Rob Wilcox said, adding that any settlement would need approval from the city council.

Vanessa Rodriguez, spokeswoman for City Council President Herb Wesson, said the council could consider approving the agreement before the end of the year.

Ford's death in South Los Angeles came just two days after a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri shot and killed Michael Brown in the summer of 2014.

LAPD officers Sharlton Wampler and Antonio Villegas had been working the Newton Division gang unit together for five months when they encountered Ford on Aug. 11, 2014 as he walked away from a group on a corner. They asked him to stop and instead he sped up his pace. They caught up with him in the driveway of a nearby house.

There was a struggle, with Ford and Wampler ending up on the ground. Wampler said he felt Ford reaching for his gun and he yelled that to his partner. Both of them fired.

Ford was shot three times. One shot hit his upper front torso, one struck behind the arm, and the third by Wampler, who reached around Ford with his backup weapon and shot him in the back. The gun was close enough to leave a muzzle mark on his back, according to the Los Angeles County Coroner’s autopsy.

After an internal investigation, Police Chief Charlie Beck said the officers were right to shoot and had acted in self defense.

But in an a break with Beck, the Los Angeles Police Commission and its Inspector General Alex Bustamante in June 2015 determined the officers lacked reasonable suspicion to stop Ford on the street in the first place. The commission found Wampler’s tactics leading up to the shooting were not within departmental guidelines and thus the use of deadly force fell outside department policy.

Villegas generally acted within department policy, the commission determined, though it did find fault Villegas unholstering his weapon as soon as he stepped out of the patrol car prior to the shooting, which occurred along 65th Street near Broadway.

Historically, the commission has found the majority of police shootings to be in policy. Between 2010 and 2015, when LAPD officers shot civilians, the commission found officers to be in-policy in the use of deadly force about 95 percent of the time, according to the 2015 year-end review of use of force. When it comes to tactics, the commission has found officers to be in-policy 91 percent of the time.

Discipline is decided by the chief and it's confidential.

But a state civil rights lawsuit filed earlier this year against the LAPD by the officers—one Asian, one Latino —claims they have remained on desk duty are the victims of racial discrimination because of their race and that of Ford. They say the department would not be punishing them this way if Ford were not black.

More than two years after Ford's death, the L.A. County District Attorney's Office has yet to determine if the shooting was justified. In an email Wednesday morning, L.A. County District Attorney spokeswoman Jane Robison said the DA’s investigation into the shooting of Ford remains under review.

Should the DA decide to file charges, it would be substantial. A KPCC analysis published in November found the DA’s office hasn’t charged a law enforcement officer in L.A. County with criminal charges related to an on-duty shooting since 2000.

This story has been updated.