LOS ANGELES » The fatal police shooting of an unarmed man in a Los Angeles suburb two years ago followed an erroneous police dispatch after a bicycle was stolen.
Ricardo Diaz-Zeferino was drunk and trying to help his brother find the bike when police, told to be on the lookout for two robbers, opened fire when he wouldn’t obey orders as they stopped him and two friends, according to an investigative review of the killing.
Video of the shooting captured on cameras in three police cars is at the center of a court fight Monday over whether the footage should be made public.
A lawyer for The Associated Press and two other news outlets says the public has a right to view the video that was sealed in a federal lawsuit that the city of Gardena, California, settled for $4.7 million with Diaz-Zeferino’s family and another man who was wounded in the shooting.
"The burden is theirs to show they’re entitled to an ongoing sealing," said Rochelle Wilcox, an attorney for AP, the Los Angeles Times and Bloomberg. "We think they haven’t even come close to meeting their burden. … The public policy strongly supports disclosure of this video, which was taken on a public street."
The hearing comes at a time of heightened scrutiny in shootings by officers and amid an ongoing debate over whether footage shot on an increasing number of police cameras should be made public.
More officers and patrol cars are being outfitted with cameras to record evidence. The devices are promoted as a tool for holding officers accountable and helping them defend themselves.
In fact, the cameras that recorded the June 2, 2013, shooting supported testimony that Diaz-Zeferino wouldn’t obey officers’ orders to stand still and keep his hands in the air. He was shot eight times after repeatedly reaching for his pants, according to a report by the Los Angeles district attorney.
Prosecutors found the shooting justified and declined to charge the four officers.
Lawyers for Gardena said releasing the video could lead to a "rush to judgment" against those officers, and it would make law enforcement agencies think twice about using cameras.
"Public agencies will be forced to wrestle with the issue of whether they wish to deploy dashboard cameras and body-worn cameras for fear that this information could be obtained, released in a distorted and sensationalistic manner, and misinterpreted, leading to acts of civil disobedience, damage to property, and the potential loss of life," according to court papers filed by the city.
Organizations of police chiefs and officers around the state have filed papers to keep the videos sealed.
A lawyer for Diaz-Zeferino’s family said they want the video released so the public can see that the men did nothing wrong before being shot. "As long as the video is not released, the city of Gardena will continue to spin the facts," attorney Sonia Mercado said.