Autopsy shows slain black man hit by 3 LAPD bullets, one in his back

Report released after police had ordered it withheld for months to avoid tainting potential witness statements

An unarmed 25-year-old black man who was killed by Los Angeles police officers in August suffered three gunshot wounds, including one to his back, according to a long-awaited autopsy report that was released on Monday. 

Police have said two officers shot and killed Ezell Ford, described by a family lawyer as mentally challenged, after he struggled with an officer and tried to grab his gun during a scuffle in mostly poor South Los Angeles on Aug. 11. Ford died in the operating room, according to the autopsy. 

Ford's death, which came just days after the fatal shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, touched off demonstrations outside police headquarters in Los Angeles. Brown's death, along with the chokehold death of Eric Garner, who died in July during a confrontation with police in New York City, set off widespread demonstrations against the problem of bias in policing in the U.S. 

The autopsy on Ford conducted by medical examiners for the Los Angeles County Coroner's Office showed that Ford suffered gunshot wounds to the arm, back and right flank. The wounds to his back and flank were fatal, it said.

Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck held a news conference on Monday afternoon to discuss the autopsy report, saying it was only part of a comprehensive probe into the shooting and that investigators were still seeking to corroborate the officers' account. The report had been withheld for months to avoid tainting potential witness statements.

Lavell Ford lights candles at a memorial for his brother Ezell Ford December 5, 2014 in Los Angeles, California.
David McNew / Getty Images

"There is nothing in the coroner's report that is inconsistent with the statements given to us by our officers," he said. "We are still looking for witnesses. We still are looking for other versions of events." 

The officers' account, Beck said, was that Ford was grappling with one officer when his partner shot Ford in the arm and flank. The officer struggling with Ford then reached around Ford from the ground to shoot him in the back at point-blank range, leaving muzzle marks on his skin, Beck said.

The officers have said the incident began when they sought to question Ford and he responded by making suspicious movements with his hands, then crouching behind a parked car. Toxicology tests showed Ford had marijuana in his system at the time of his death. 

Beck called for calm, saying the investigation was far from over. "Let the system work," he said. 

Steve Lerman, an attorney for Ford's parents, sait the autopsy supports supports the family's claim that the shooting was "more like an execution than a confrontation."

In September Ford’s family filed a $75 million claim against the city of Los Angeles, as well as a federal civil rights lawsuit against the Los Angeles Police Department and the two officers who shot Ford.

The suit said that Ford was not breaking any laws when police approached him, and that he complied when officers told him to lie on the ground. It alleged the officers used excessive force that violated Ford's right to be free from unreasonable seizure.

The suit said the two officers — Sharlton Wampler and Antonio Villegas — knew Ford from the neighborhood and were aware that he had mental problems.

Al Jazeera and wire services

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