Videos show cops killing unarmed man in L.A. suburb

A Calif. judge released video sought by the AP and two other news organizations of a June 2013 shooting by Gardena, Calif. police in which one man was killed and one was wounded. The City of Gardena later settled with the families for $4.7m.

First, a judge ruled Tuesday that disturbing videos showing Gardena, Calif., police officers fatally shooting an unarmed man should be released.

Then, the Los Angeles Times published the videosunder the headline This is the video Gardena police didn’t want you to see.

Then, an appeals court intervened, and stayed the order at the request of the Gardena Police Department. But the videos were already out there — and out there they remain.

The videos’ release, which came after a court battle led by the Times, Associated Press, and Bloomberg news service, comes amid nationwide scrutiny of shootings by police in America. The news organizations argued the public had a right to see the footage.

For two years, Gardena officials refused to release the videos, saying they could spark a “rush to judgment” against the officers. City officials also argued that the case was settled with the understanding that the videos would not be made public.

Here’s what happened, back on June 2, 2013:

Police had been investigating the theft of a bicycle in the predawn hours of June 2, 2013, when they came upon three men on a street. Dashcam videos show officers confronting the men, shouting for them to raise their hands and keep them up.

Witnesses later said that Ricardo Diaz-Zeferino was trying to explain that they were not the thieves, that they were actually looking for the bike. Zeferino takes a few small steps forward, but still appears distant and not threatening. He removes his cap and lowers his hands.

That set off a torrent of bullets from the officers. Zeferino, 35, tumbles to the ground, fatally shot. Another man, Eutiquio Acevedo Mendez, also collapses. The city later settled lawsuits brought by the men for $4.7 million.

Zeferino, who was shot eight times, was drunk and had methamphetamine in this system, an autopsy showed. Mendez was shot once and survived.

Judge Stephen Wilson dismissed the city’s claims, saying the public had a right to know how and why its money was spent.

“The fact that they spent the city’s money, presumably derived from taxes, only strengthens the public’s interest in seeing the videos,” Wilson wrote in a 13-page order.

“We applaud the court’s decision to unseal the video,” AP spokesman Paul Colford said. “The Associated Press, joining with other news organizations, believes it’s important that the public has access to videos like this to better understand the actions of their police officers.”

Michael Overing, a lawyer and journalism professor at the University of Southern California, told AP that in addition to being cited in future court filings the ruling could help provide guidance as lawmakers grapple with those issues.

“Right now, video is being suppressed,” Overing said. “This is going to help open the floodgates so the public can see it … and see if actions are justified.”

There was a hitch, however. After the Times published the videos online, Judge Alex Kozinski ordered “the police car camera video footage shall remain under seal pending further order of this court.”

However, the videos remained in the public domain Wednesday.

The court battle reflects the limited scope of California’s laws on public records, Peter Scheer, executive director of the First Amendment Coalition, told the Times. Gardena police officials were within their rights to withhold the footage, he said.

“The take-away from this should be that California laws protecting police information and evidence are way too restrictive and make it too difficult to know what is going on,” Scheer said.

Gardena Police Chief Ed Medrano released a statement calling the shootings “tragic for all involved. He said the department has developed new training techniques designed to “slow down fast-moving events.”

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