Over the last several weeks, there has been a great deal of public discussion about the Ezell Ford incident, with people offering their opinions on the officers’ actions and Ford’s background and behavior that evening. Opinions may differ, but all should be tethered to the facts.
First, Ford had a history of mental health issues. According to court records, in September 2011, a Santa Barbara judge found Ford incompetent to stand trial for stealing a car, and confined him to a mental hospital for several months. Among the most difficult situations police officers encounter is when they confront mentally ill suspects, who often display furtive or erratic behaviors and fail to respond to officers’ commands in a calm and rational manner. Ford’s mental illness provides an explanation for his failure to respond to the officers’ commands in this case and his erratic behavior in attempting to grab one of the officer’s weapons.
Second, Ford had an extensive criminal record, with a history of convictions for drug offenses, possession of a weapon, trespass and vehicle theft. In fact, Ford pled guilty to aggravated trespass as recently as January of last year, just a few months before his encounter with the LAPD officers.
Third, court records suggest that Ford was a gang member or affiliated with a gang. Two California Court of Appeal decisions describe Ford as “a member of the East Coast Crips gang,” and a 2008 arrest report references “66 East Coast Crip,” a violent criminal organization. In addition, Ford had a “C” tattooed on his face, which is another indication of gang affiliation. These court decisions reflect that Ford was shot by a rival gang in 2008, which sparked a gang war culminating with a drive-by shooting that left one man dead and another injured.
Finally, a bench warrant for Ford’s arrest was outstanding at the time of his interaction with the LAPD officers. Ford had previously been convicted of stealing a car in Santa Barbara court, and was on probation in January of last year when he pleaded guilty to trespass in Los Angeles court. As a result, the Santa Barbara court revoked Ford’s probation and issued a warrant for his arrest.
All of these factors—Ford’s history of mental illness, a lengthy criminal history, gang affiliation and an outstanding warrant—may help explain why Ford concealed his hands, refused to comply with the officers’ directions and reached for an officer’s weapon, ultimately resulting in the officers having to use deadly force. None of these factors have received adequate attention in the press, and it is unclear whether they were considered by the Police Commission.
Opinions are heated on the Ezell Ford incident, which is understandable. But all the facts must be considered in order to make an informed judgment about the events leading to LAPD officers having to use their weapons to protect themselves during their encounter with an erratic and aggressive suspect.