Two White Cops Claim They are Being “Discriminated Against” for Killing Mentally Ill Black Man
Don DeBenedictis | Courthouse News Service
Two Los Angeles police officers who killed a mentally disturbed black man, Ezell Ford, sued the city for racial discrimination, claiming they have been “benched” since the 2014 shooting.
Officers Tony Villegas and Sharlton Wampler “continue to be denied assignments, transfers, overtime, coveted assignments, advancement in rank and other opportunities for employment,” they say in their Wednesday complaint in Superior Court.
Villegas is Latino, while Wampler is Caucasian, the complaint states, though news reports have described Wampler as Asian.
They claim that city discriminated and retaliated against them “based upon … the race of plaintiffs and constituted adverse employment actions, and unlawful employment practices.”
Villegas and Wampler were on patrol as gang enforcement officers on Aug. 11, 2014, when they approached the 25-year-old Ford for an “investigative stop,” according to the heavily reported story. Ford walked away, and Wampler moved to arrest him. The two struggled and fell to the ground, with Ford atop Wampler.
Police said Ford tried to take Wampler’s handgun, and Villegas shot him in the arm and side. Wampler then grabbed his backup weapon from his leg and shot Ford in the back.
Ford’s parents said their son suffered from depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.
After an internal investigation, Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck cleared the officers of wrongdoing. But the department’s Board of Police Commissioners later concluded that while the shooting was justified, the investigative stop and other aspects of the incident violated department policies.
Coming just two days after the fatal shooting of Michael Brown by police in Ferguson, Mo., Ford’s death drew immediate and repeated protests.
It also has produced two wrongful death lawsuits against the city — one for $75 million from Ford’s family and another from the family of a potential witness to the Ford shooting who was himself shot to death by unknown assailants days before he was to testify at a deposition.
In their own lawsuit, Villegas and Wampler reject the Police Commission’s findings and call the commissioners themselves “an inexperienced group of political appointees.”
They also complain that they are being treated differently than other officers who shot people.
“An African-American officer that was recently involved in a lethal shooting of an individual that was found out of policy by the Police Chief and the Police Commission, was only taken out of the field for a short period of time and is now in a highly sought-after position in Metropolitan Division,” the lawsuit states. “Clearly, there is a different standard of discipline meted out to officers solely on account of their race and color of their skin.
“The race of plaintiffs, and the race of the African-American that was shot by plaintiffs, while performing their duties as peace officers, was a substantial motivating reason for causing damages and injuries to plaintiffs.”
The officers’ attorney Gregory W. Smith, of Beverly Hills, did not return calls seeking comment. Neither did the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office.
In separate interviews, civil rights attorneys representing Ford’s family, Steven A. Lerner in Los Angeles and Federico C. Sayre of Treyzon & Associates in Santa Ana, both said the officers’ lawsuit puts the city in a quandary.
To justify the department’s treatment of Villegas and Wampler, “the city’s going to have to defend by saying they did” act improperly, Sayre said.
The two officers seek lost wages and damages for racial discrimination, retaliation, suffering and damage to reputation.
Published by Courthouse News Service.