The Los Angeles Police Department has blocked the release of findings from an autopsy of Ezell Earl Ford, the unarmed African-American man who was fatally shot by gang officers in South L.A. last week.
The LAPD regularly places a “security hold” on autopsies during early stages of an investigation, according to Cmdr. Andrew Smith.
“We don’t want the witnesses’ testimony to be tainted,” Smith said. Detectives want to obtain “clean interviews” from people, rather than a repetition of what they may have seen in media reports about Ford’s death, he added.
“They could use information from the autopsy to give credibility to their story,” Smith said.
Speaking with KPCC, Loyola Law School Professor, Laurie Levenson agreed that it's not uncommon for police to delay the release of an autopsy, in order to gather information from witnesses.
But the delayed autopsy report stirred new controversy on Monday. Jubilee Shine of the Coalition for Community Control Over the Police accused the LAPD of trying to "cover their tracks," by giving detectives time to "concoct a story" about the shooting.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson, president of the Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable, issued a statement criticizing the police "security hold":
"The blocking of the autopsy report of Ford comes on the heels of the release of the autopsy report on Michael Brown which contradicted the police version of how Brown was killed." says Hutchinson. "The blocking of the release Ford autopsy report further fuels suspicions about the LAPD's version of the Ford killing."
The killing of Ford has been compared by community activists to the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. Several hundred people attended a protest outside LAPD headquarters Sunday.
Two officers shot Ford, 25, after he tried to grab one of their guns, according to the LAPD. Newton Division gang officers stopped Ford as he was walking near his home around 8:15 p.m. on Aug. 11 for what the department has described as “an investigative stop.”
“Officers are allowed to have consensual encounters with people,” Smith said. “As they got near this guy, they saw him acting suspiciously, including hiding his hands in front of himself.”
Smith said Ford “basically tackled” one of the officers as the officer approached him.
The killing has sparked outrage among Ford’s family, neighbors and community activists, who question the police version of events. Why, they ask, did the LAPD stop Ford in the first place?
Ford's mother, Tribotia Ford, has said her son is mentally ill and has called the shooting unjustified. Activists say it is another example of police targeting an African-American man, with deadly results.
This story has been updated.