LOS ANGELES -- More than two weeks after police in a South Los Angeles neighborhood fatally shot Ezell Ford, a black man who was unarmed and mentally ill, the Los Angeles Police Department has identified the two officers involved in the shooting.
"The Los Angeles Police officers involved in the use of lethal force in Newton Division on August 11, 2014 were Police Officer III Sharlton Wampler, Serial No. 36135, and Police Officer II Antonio Villegas, Serial No. 38218, both assigned to the Newton Area Gang Enforcement Detail," a press statement issued by the LAPD late Thursday reads.
"The LAPD has a longstanding policy of releasing the names of officers involved in shootings after investigating evidence of threats that could jeopardize the personal safety of the officers or their families," the statement continues. "In this particular case, it was necessary to investigate evidence brought to the Department's attention regarding potential threats to the safety of the officers and ensure that measures were taken to mitigate those threats. In each incident, the Department carefully reviews and investigates potential threats against its personnel while maintaining its commitment to disclose appropriate information, such as the identities of officers involved in uses of lethal force, to the public."
Wampler's name had been leaked Wednesday by Los Angeles blogger and political analyst Jasmyne Cannick. Cannick also named another officer, but he was not one of those identified by the LAPD. She said the names came from "a reliable source."
A LAPD spokesperson declined to comment to The Huffington Post on whether the naming of two officers the day before by Cannick prompted the department to finally release their identities by the end of the day Thursday.
The announcement follows multiple protests from devastated and angry South LA residents, who have been demanding the names since the incident occurred earlier in the month. LAPD Chief Charlie Beck had said last week that the department would wait to release the names until it could be sure that the officers were not in danger of any retaliation.
Just last week, the Los Angeles Police Protective League pointed at a rap video and song that the police union claimed came from a "street gang" and called for "revenge" for the Ford killing. The artist who wrote the song told HuffPost that he and everyone else who appeared in the video are not affiliated with any street gangs and that the song was written to protest the shooting, not to call for revenge.
The police have launched an investigation into Ford's death, but have put an "investigative hold" on the coroner's autopsy report to prevent witness testimony from being tainted. Ed Winter, the assistant chief of investigation at the coroner's office, told HuffPost that he didn't know how long the hold would last.
Putting a hold on an autopsy report is common in cases that are ongoing, LAPD Cmdr. Andrew Smith told local public radio station KPCC.
However, others saw the move as controversial. Earl Ofari Hutchinson, president of the civil rights community forum Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable, questioned the LAPD's decision.
"The blocking of the release [of the] Ford autopsy report further fuels suspicions about the LAPD's version of the Ford killing," Hutchinson said last week.
Steven Lerman, a lawyer for the Ford family, similarly cast doubt on the official explanation for withholding the autopsy results, telling HuffPost that he believes the police have delayed the report's release for "political reasons."
Much like the Michael Brown case in Missouri, police and eyewitness versions of what actually took place shortly after 8:10 p.m. on Aug. 11 in the Florence neighborhood of South LA vary wildly.
The police say that during an "investigative stop," a struggle ensued in which Ford "turned, grabbed one of the officers." After that, "they fell to the ground," and Ford allegedly attempted to pull an officer's handgun from its holster. The "partner officer then fired his handgun and the officer on the ground fired his backup weapon" at Ford.
"It is unknown if the suspect has any gang affiliations," the LAPD said in a statement after the killing.
But other eyewitnesses, neighbors and family members dispute the police department's story. Neighbors of Ford's told HuffPost earlier this month that he was not involved in gang activity in any way. An eyewitness told KTLA that Ford was shot "in the back" while he was "laying down." That witness also said Ford's mental state was well-known in the neighborhood. His mother, Tritobia Ford, told HuffPost last week that her son showed signs of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.
One eyewitness told HuffPost that he heard a police officer shout, "Shoot him!" before three bullets were unloaded into Ezell, who was already on the ground. And a neighbor claimed that "racial bulls--t" was at the heart of what happened on that street.
The LAPD's Force Investigation Division and Robbery-Homicide Division are looking into the incident.