LOS ANGELES (CN) - A witness who saw a Los Angeles police officer shoot a black man to death was shot to death himself days before he was to give evidence against the officer, despite promises from the highest-ranking officials in Los Angeles that they would protect him, the man's widow claims in court.
Alice Hill, the widow of Leroy Hill, sued the City and County of Los Angeles, Mayor Eric Garcetti, District Attorney Jackie Lacey, Police Chief Charlie Beck, City Councilman Curren Price and two other high-ranking police officers, on Monday in Superior Court.
Hill blames them for the wrongful death of her husband, who had stepped forward as a witness to the Aug. 11, 2014 police shooting of Ezell Ford.
Both Ford and Hill were black.
Ford, 25, and Leroy Hill, were shot to death on the same block, Hill on March 13 this year, his widow says. She says her husband was killed after the defendants identified him and shared information about his pending testimony with attorneys for the defendants in a civil lawsuit filed by Ford's family.
Hill says her husband's testimony would have incriminated Los Angeles police Officers Sharlton Wampler and Antonio Villegas, who are defendants in a federal wrongful death lawsuit filed by Ford's parents on Sept. 17, 2014. Wampler is Asian-American; Villegas is Latino, according to the LA Times, which attributed the information to the LAPD.
Wampler claims he shot and killed Ford, who was mentally ill, after Ford attacked him and tried to take his handgun. The shooting was widely reported.
Police Chief Beck said Wampler was justified in shooting Ford, but the L.A. Police Commission rejected that conclusion in June, and said Wampler's use of deadly force violated LAPD policy, according to a June 9 report in the Los Angeles Times.
The commission concluded that Wampler had no reason to stop and detain Ford in the first place, which set off the confrontation and killing.
Hill says the investigation of the Wampler-Ford shooting was hampered "for several months," because investigators could not find any eyewitnesses willing to step forward. She says the investigators felt "that possibly there were percipient direct eyewitnesses to the incident who chose not to share their testimony for fear of harm to themselves."
So on Nov. 13, 2014, the defendants, including Garcetti and Lacey, "convened a publicly broadcast/telecast press conference," and asked for witnesses to step forward, Hill says in the complaint.
"The spokespersons further stated that such witnesses that so presented themselves should not fear for their safety because the defendant public entities would provide protection for their safety," the complaint states.
In response, Hill says, her husband stepped up. He gave a videotaped statement to attorneys for the Ford family in their civil lawsuit, in which he said "that Officers Wampler and Villegas had wrongfully shot and killed Ezell Ford without legal or factual justification," according to the complaint.
It continues: "Shortly after obtaining said videotaped statement from decedent Hill, the attorneys for the plaintiffs in the federal civil rights action shared with the attorneys for the defendants in said action the contact information of decedent Hill and the substance of his aforesaid videotaped percipient eyewitness statement."
Defense counsel in that case, "shortly thereafter," subpoenaed her husband to a deposition,
On March 13 this year, "a few days before the date of the deposition," her husband was in his car "on the same block in which the Ford killing had occurred, in the vicinity of 65th Street and South Broadway in the City of Los Angeles," Hill says.
She was with him, along with two other women. Just before midnight, "two gunmen shot into the car which decedent Hill was driving, causing his death by gunshot without shooting any of the other occupants of the car," she says in the lawsuit. Leroy was pronounced dead at the scene.
The LA Times reported on March 30 that two men rode up to the car on bicycles, and one of them fired the fatal shots.
The final two defendants in Hill's lawsuit are Deputy Police Chief Earl Paysinger, LAPD Inspector General Alex Bustamante.
Hill seeks damages for wrongful death, loss of support and loss of consortium.
Her attorney, Terran Steinhart, was not available by telephone Monday evening.
Garcetti and the Los Angeles Police Department could not be reached by telephone on Monday evening and did not respond to email requests for comment.
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