Judge ‘Inclined’ to Unseal Video of Police Shooting

     LOS ANGELES (CN) – A federal judge said Monday that the public should see two-year-old videos depicting events leading up to a fatal police shooting of an unarmed Gardena man.
     In the early hours of June, 2, 2013, city of Gardena police shot and killed Ricardo Diaz-Zeferino, 35, after responding to call that a bicycle had been stolen from a nearby CVS pharmacy and observing two men riding down a street on bicycles.
     Diaz-Zeferino approached the officers on foot and attempted to explain that his brother had reported the bicycle stolen and the two men were not the thieves but his friends, the man’s parents claimed in a 2013 complaint for violation of civil rights, excessive force, false arrest and false imprisonment, and denial of medical care.
     The lawsuit by Diaz-Zeferino’s mother and father claimed that police had shot their son nine times and that he “laid on the street pavement, still alive and in agonizing pain” crying in Spanish “Hasta aqui llegue,” or “This is the end of me”
     The police claimed that the officer was justified because Diaz-Zeferino was acting erratically and was reaching into his waistband despite a command to place his hands in the air. An autopsy report revealed that he had alcohol and methamphetamine in his system.
     The parties settled the case for a reported $4.7 million.
     Bloomberg, Los Angeles Times Communications, and The Associated Press moved for an order to unseal the videos earlier this year, arguing that the public interest strongly supports their release.
     The city claims the videos are too gruesome for public consumption.
     “The public interest in the videos at issue here is heightened by the recent events across the country, which have accentuated the need for complete information related to police use of force,” the news outlets wrote in a June 8 filing to support the motion. “Protests in Baltimore after the deadly injury of a young man in police custody, and police killings of men in South Carolina and Oklahoma (both caught on camera), are only a few of the recent events spurring the ongoing public debate about police use of force.”
     U.S. District Judge Stephen Wilson sided with the media companies on Monday.
     With reporters from the Los Angeles Times and The Associated Press in court to cover the proceedings, Wilson said the videos were “unpleasant” but not “gory.”
     “I’m inclined to release the footage. I don’t find any valid reason for not doing so,” Wilson said, adding that Diaz-Zeferino’s mother and father had not objected.
     Their attorney, Samuel Paz, confirmed during the hearing that the parents support the motion.
     Wilson said he was not convinced by the city’s claims that unsealing the footage would discourage use of police body cameras or that a sensitive “political climate” after several high-profile police shootings meant the videos should stay secret.
     “There are overwhelming public-policy interests here,” Wilson said. “The public has a right to know.”
     Gardena attorney Mildred O’Linn tried to sway Wilson, arguing that when the parties reached a settlement the parents had agreed to not seek press attention in the case.
     O’Linn also called the move a “back door” attempt to use the federal courts to avoid making a public-records request under California law.
     Forthright in his response, Wilson said: “So what?”
     In their motion to unseal the video, the news outlets said the videos offer the “best evidence of what happened” and that Gardena’s “real motivation” for keeping the video secret is because the city is concerned about the critical fallout.
     Wilson said he would issue an order Tuesday.

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