LOS ANGELES — Police Chief Charlie Beck says he has given himself a personal deadline to decide whether a Los Angeles police officer will face disciplinary actions for the fatal shooting of a mentally ill, unarmed black man.
In an interview on public radio KPCC’s “AirTalk” show June 17, Beck said he gave himself a “personal deadline” to determine if Officer Sharlton Wampler should be held responsible for the deadly encounter with Ezell Ford last summer.
“I’m not going to reveal [the deadline], because it doesn’t help the discussion,” he said.
Yet, even if he does take action — the public may not know about it.
Under state law, Beck said he is not allowed to release information regarding the discipline of officers, including the names of officers under internal investigation as stated in the Police Officer’s Bill of Rights.
Presently, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office is reviewing the Ford case, according to spokesperson Shiara Davila-Morales.
The office’s Justice System Integrity Division is reviewing evidence presented by the Los Angeles Police Department while waiting for supplemental materials from the civil case, she said.
“The focus of the review is to determine whether the filing of criminal charges is warranted, not whether LAPD internal policies were violated,” Davila-Morales said.
The scrutiny over Beck’s decision on disciplinary measures comes after the city’s Police Commission ruled last week that Wampler and Officer Antonio Villegas violated departmental policy in the incident surrounding the fatal shooting.
The commission ruled that Wampler’s use of deadly force in the death of Ford last August violated LAPD policy. The commission rejected Beck’s finding that both Wampler and Villegas adhered to department policy last Aug. 11 when they sought to question Ford, a 25-year-old man who was walking down the street near Broadway and 65th Street in South Los Angeles.
The commission decided that Villegas was wrong in his initial decision to draw his weapon early in the confrontation, but upheld his decision to fire at Ford to protect Wampler.
The civilian panel also ruled there was no reason to have detained Ford in the first place and that Wampler badly mishandled the encounter, leading to the fatal confrontation. The commission ruling was based on the “totality” of the circumstances, not just the moment when force was used.
The ruling sparked outrage from Craig Lally, president of Los Angeles Police Protective League, the union representing the department’s rank-and-file officers.
“In a nutshell, [officers] say they’re worried about the Police Commission’s decision,” Lally said in a phone interview. “Officers are scared to do proactive policing because if they make a wrong call in judgment for the right reason, they can be thrown under the bus by the commission.”
When asked whether Wampler could face termination, Lally says it “highly unlikely” based on Beck’s earlier review of the investigation.
The lead organizer of the Los Angeles chapter for Black Lives Matter, Melina Abdullah, agreed with Lally.
“It’s a convoluted system,” she said. “[Beck] originally said he doesn’t think the officers did anything wrong.
“And now he gets to determine whether the officers should be discipline?” she asked.
Abdullah, a professor of Pan African Studies at Cal State Los Angeles, says her organization wants both officers to be disciplined in some “meaningful way” and will continue to put community pressure on Beck while also attending every Police Commission meeting.
“We’re also going to push elected officials to have Beck take action,” Abdullah said.
However, Deborah Thomas, a professor who teaches negotiation, conflict resolution and peace building at Cal State Dominguez Hills, says any discussion on disciplinary action is premature.
“Let the District Attorney’s Office finish the investigation,” Thomas said. “We shouldn’t think about what the punishment should be. Prejudgment can lead to frustration.”
Thomas, a consultant who has worked as a mediator between communities and law enforcement — such as the LAPD, Pasadena Police and the county Sheriff’s Department — says pre-judging behind the badge is similar to racial profiling on the streets.
“If we start telling democracy how to work, the same thing is going to happen,” she said. “Let the democratic system work.”