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Two LAPD officers who fatally shot an unarmed black man in 2014 filed a racial-discrimination lawsuit against the police department Thursday, alleging their careers were curtailed because of their race and the race of the shooting victim.
Officers Antonio Villegas and Sharlton Wampler claim their role in the shooting death of Ezell Ford two years ago led to unwarranted discrimination against them from other LAPD officers. Villegas is Hispanic; Wampler is white. Among their complaints are the loss of career advancement opportunities, denial of overtime and other benefits, and their continued assignment to desk duty during the investigations into Ford’s death. The two officers rose to prominence after they killed Ford during an altercation on August 11, 2014, two days after the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. Brown’s death sparked nationwide protests over police killings of unarmed black men and women, overshadowing Ford’s story in the national media. Ford’s death sparked large local protests in the Los Angeles area nonetheless.
Wampler and Villegas were members of an anti-gang unit patrolling the LAPD’s Newton Division when they encountered Ford walking outside. Wampler stated that he was attacked by Ford, who tried to grab his firearm, according to the lawsuit. Villegas fired two shots at Ford, and Wampler used a secondary gun to shoot Ford in the back.
LAPD Chief Charlie Beck concluded that Wampler and Villegas acted within department policy. Investigators found evidence backing Wampler’s assertions that he had been in a fight for his life as he and Ford wrestled for the officer’s gun. They identified Ford’s DNA on the weapon, and scratches on the holster and hands of the officer and Ford.
But in June 2015, the Police Commission, the civilian panel that oversees the LAPD, rejected Beck’s finding and determined that Wampler violated the department’s deadly force policy. The commissioners concluded that Wampler did not have an adequate reason for stopping Ford in the first place. His handling of the encounter, they decided, was so flawed that it led to the fatal confrontation.
The panel disapproved only of Villegas’ initial decision to draw his weapon early on in the confrontation, but said he ultimately was right to fire at Ford to protect Wampler.
Despite no official finding of misconduct by the commission, both officers could still face criminal charges from the L.A. County district attorney’s office for their roles in Ford’s death.
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