PASADENA, Calif. – A California police chief who didn’t want the public to see video of his officers killing an unarmed man that led to a nearly $5 million settlement wants the judge who released the video admonished.
Lawyers for the Gardena chief are scheduled to argue before an appeals court Monday that a Los Angeles federal court judge abused his authority by releasing the footage before they could get a higher court to intervene.
A ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals will not have a practical impact on video of the fatal shooting of Ricardo Diaz-Zeferino because the footage has been public for more than a year and a half.
Judge Stephen V. Wilson ordered the video released it in 2015 after saying it was important for the public to see whether the shooting was justified and so taxpayers could understand why the LA suburb paid $4.7 million to settle a lawsuit with Diaz-Zeferino’s family and a friend who was injured.
The videos were sought by lawyers for The Associated Press and other news media organizations at a time when intense public scrutiny was beginning to be focused on police shootings nationwide. The news media argued the videos should be unsealed under a First Amendment right to access court documents.
The city wants the court to deem that in future cases a stay should be granted automatically to allow an appeal.
A federal court released video of the moment a Gardena, Calif., police officers fatally shot an unarmed man in a 2013 incident.
(Gardena Police Dept.)
But attorneys for AP, the Los Angeles Times and Bloomberg argued in court papers that the city didn’t deserve a stay because it had little chance of winning an appeal on the merits of the case and didn’t properly request a stay of execution. They also said the appeal is pointless because the video was widely published.
Diaz-Zeferino had been searching for his brother’s stolen bicycle early the morning of June 2, 2013, when he and two other friends were stopped by officers. The theft had erroneously been relayed by dispatchers as a robbery, raising the possibility suspects could be armed.
The footage showed Diaz-Zeferino, who was drunk and had methamphetamine in his system, failing to follow police orders to keep his hands up. The video shot from two cruisers showed him lower his hands three times despite an officer yelling, “Get your hands up.”
One camera showed he had his palms open and facing upward in front of him as he removed his ball cap and lowered his hands a final time. Footage shot from the side showed his right hand briefly disappear from view at his waist as shots were fired and he crumpled to the pavement.
The officers said they feared he was reaching for a weapon. Prosecutors said the shooting was justified and declined to bring charges.
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