Please attribute the following statement to the ACLU of Southern California:
The Los Angeles Police Commission took an encouraging step towards reinforcing its independence Tuesday when it found that one of two officers violated department policy when he and his partner shot and killed Ezell Ford, an unarmed black man with mental illness. The commission roundly rejected LAPD Chief Charlie Beck’s finding that both officers’ acted appropriately.
The commission’s findings vindicate the outcry from the public and from Ford’s family and send the clear message that the LAPD’s killing of Ezell Ford was wrong and should never have happened. Chief Beck must now determine what discipline to impose and should take action that reflects the gravity of an improper use of force that cost a life. The chief should not undercut the commission’s finding by imposing what amounts to a slap on the wrist as has happened in earlier cases. But the public may never find out what Chief Beck does because officer discipline is confidential under state law.
The panel, however, did not answer the questions the public has been asking for 10 months: Why was Ford stopped in the first place? How did officers handle the stop of a man known to suffer from mental illness? Why would gang officers get into a struggle with an unarmed man with mental illness? What happened during the stop that prompted the supposed conflict? And why did the department and Chief Beck believe the shooting was justified? For that information, the public was forced to wait 10 months for summaries from the LAPD Inspector General and for an analysis from Chief Beck that the department released only after a public records request was filed although the department could have released that analysis immediately. But, even if the department had been more transparent, there are still significant barriers in California law to the public’s ability to obtain the information it should have access to.
The lack of information, and the fact that it will come only in summaries without the full investigative materials, underscores a lack of transparency that presents a fundamental obstacle to improved relations between police and the public in California. When police take the life of a member of the public they are sworn to protect, the public has a right to know what happened and what can and will be done to avoid such incidents in the future. The full Ezell Ford investigation should be made public. The commission’s deliberation and decision should have been made in public. And the discipline imposed on the officers also should be public. Because California law bars the release of that information to the public, California law must be reformed.