Autopsy shows Los Angeles police officers shot unarmed black man in the back

A mural of Ezell Ford at the site where he was shot and killed in August. -- PHOTO: AFP 
A mural of Ezell Ford at the site where he was shot and killed in August. -- PHOTO: AFP 

LOS ANGELES (AFP) - An unarmed black man killed by Los Angeles police officers was shot three times, including once in the back at close range, according to his autopsy report released on Monday.

The Aug 11 death of Mr Ezell Ford is among a string of cases in the United States this year in which black men have been killed by police officers under contentious and contested circumstances.

The highly anticipated autopsy report, released by the Los Angeles County coroner's office, shows that Mr Ford was shot once in the back, once in the arm and once in the abdomen. The wound to his back left a "muzzle imprint" on his skin, suggesting Mr Ford was shot at very close range.

Mr Steven Lerman, the lawyer for Mr Ford's family, told AFP that the autopsy report was "horrifying". "What they did to Mr Ford is nothing short of criminal," he said.

Mr Ford, who was 25 and apparently suffered from mental illness, was killed during a confrontation with two patrol officers Sharlton Wampler and Antonio Villegas in southern Los Angeles.

At the time of the incident, Mr Ford was alone, unarmed, and walking on the sidewalk.

The autopsy report does not provide a narrative of the shooting, but the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) says the incident unfolded with Wampler and Villegas attempting to talk to Mr Ford. He walked away, however, and was "attempting to conceal his hands".

The officers followed Mr Ford and as one of them tried to grab him, "Ford grabbed the officer's handgun and attempted to remove the gun from its holster," according to an LAPD statement.

"The officer yelled out to his partner that Mr Ford had his gun. The officer's partner then fired two rounds striking Mr Ford. At about the same time, the officer on the ground while on his back grabbed his backup weapon, reached around Mr Ford and fired one shot at close range striking Mr Ford in the back," the statement read.

During a press conference Monday, Los Angeles police chief Charlie Beck said "there is nothing in the coroner's report that is inconsistent with the version the officer has given".

"The officer drew his backup gun and... shot Mr Ford in very close proximity, probably causing the muzzle imprint mentioned in the coroner's report," Mr Beck said.

Mr Beck cautioned that the investigation would take several months to complete.

Mr Ford's family and witnesses cited by local media deny that Mr Ford had been aggressive.

The autopsy was published only after residents complained of a lack of transparency in police investigations and Mayor Eric Garcetti promised to publish it by the end of the year.

In recent months, demonstrators have taken to the streets across the United States to protest what they say is disproportionate police violence against unarmed black people, including the July choking death of Eric Garner in New York and the August fatal shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.

Grand juries probing both those cases declined to charge the officers involved.

Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable president Earl Ofari Hutchinson called for Los Angeles County district attorney Jackie Lacey to review the possibility of filing criminal charges against the officers in the Ford case.

"Given the report and the tensions over the killing and other police shootings nationally, it's absolutely crucial that... Lacey conduct a fast-track review of possible criminal charges," Mr Hutchinson said in a statement.