Big test for po­lice video in Gar­dena

Le­gal bat­tle lines form over the city’s ef­fort to bar public re­lease of dash- cam im­ages in a shoot­ing by of­fi­cers.

Los Angeles Times - - CALIFORNIA - By Richard Win­ton

Set­ting the stage for a le­gal show­down over the line be­tween po­lice trans­parency and pri­vacy, a va­ri­ety of Cal­i­for­nia law en­force­ment or­ga­ni­za­tions are back­ing an ef­fort by the city of Gar­dena to bar the public re­lease of videos show­ing a con­tro­ver­sial po­lice shoot­ing.

At is­sue are videos taken by dash­board cam­eras in po­lice cars show­ing Gar­dena po­lice of­fi­cers fa­tally shoot­ing one man and wound­ing another in 2013. The shoot­ing ul­ti­mately re­sulted in a $ 4.7- mil­lion set­tle­ment to the vic­tims and their fam­i­lies, but Gar­dena city of­fi­cials are f ight­ing to pre­vent the videos from be­com­ing public.

The bat­tle comes as po­lice agen­cies na­tion­wide are us­ing of­fi­cers’ body cam­eras and their ve­hi­cles’ dash­board cam­eras to record po­lice in­ter­ac­tions. Most po­lice agen­cies have vowed to keep those record­ing pri­vate, spark­ing protests from some civil lib­er­ties groups.

Gar­dena could end up be­com­ing a test case in this de­bate.

“This case il­lus­trates the dilemma po­lice face with new tech­nol­ogy that can let the public be right there,” said Ge­off Alpert, pro­fes­sor of crim­i­nol­ogy at Univer­sity of South Carolina. “Ev­ery­body talks about trans­parency; they don’t al­ways prac­tice it.”

The videos are un­der seal in fed­eral court, which heard the civil rights suit that re­sulted in the set­tle­ment. The Los An­ge­les Times along with Bloomberg and the As­so­ci­ated Press are seek­ing to un­seal the videos, say­ing it’s in the public in­ter­est for the in­for­ma­tion to be made public.

But Gar­dena ar­gues that re­leas­ing the videos would vi­o­late the pri­vacy of the of­fi­cers and oth­ers who were recorded.

In court pa­pers f iled last week, the Los An­ge­les

County Po­lice Chief ’s Assn., Cal­i­for­nia Po­lice Chiefs Assn., Cal­i­for­nia State Sher­iffs’ Assn. and the Cal­i­for­nia Peace Of­fi­cers’ Assn. ex­pressed sup­port for Gar­dena’s po­si­tion. The or­ga­ni­za­tions noted that such seals are com­mon prac­tice na­tion­wide. In ad­di­tion to the pri­vacy con­cerns, the groups said re­leas­ing the videos could in­ter­fere with fu­ture in­ves­ti­ga­tions by re­veal­ing po­lice tac­tics.

They also said re­leas­ing the tapes might make peo­ple less likely to co­op­er­ate with po­lice and could dis­cour­age the use of cam­eras by other law en­force­ment agen­cies.

The dash­board cam­eras recorded parts of the June 2, 2013, in­ci­dent out­side a drug­store. Of­fi­cers fa­tally shot Ri­cardo Diaz Ze­ferino. Eu­tiquio Acevedo Men­dez suf­fered a gun­shot wound to his back, leav­ing bullet frag­ments near his spine.

Po­lice were called to the scene af­ter a bi­cy­cle was stolen from out­side the CVS drug­store on Western Av­enue. A po­lice dis­patcher mis­tak­enly told of­fi­cers that the crime was a rob­bery, which usu­ally in­volves a theft us­ing weapons or force, and of­fi­cers headed to the area in search of two sus­pects.

Sgt. Christo­pher Cuff saw two men rid­ing bi­cy­cles east on Re­dondo Beach Boule­vard. The men were friends of the bike theft vic­tim and were search­ing for the miss­ing bi­cy­cle. Mis­tak­ing them for the thieves, Cuff or­dered the men to stop and put their hands up, ac­cord­ing to a dis­trict at­tor­ney’s memo writ­ten by a pros­e­cu­tor who re­viewed the po­lice videos.

Diaz Ze­ferino, whose brother owned the stolen bi­cy­cle, ran up to his friends as they stood be­fore the po­lice car. A dash cam­era video cap­tured him yelling at the sergeant, who screamed in English and Span­ish for Diaz Ze­ferino to stop ad­vanc­ing, the dis­trict at­tor­ney’s memo said.

Diaz Ze­ferino raised his hands, pounded his chest with both hands and said some­thing that was in­audi­ble, the memo said. One of his friends later told in­ves­ti­ga­tors that Diaz Ze­ferino was ex­plain­ing that po­lice had stopped the wrong peo­ple.

Two more po­lice cars ar­rived, and three of­fi­cers emerged with guns drawn.

The pa­trol car video showed Diaz Ze­ferino drop­ping his hands and reach­ing to his right waist­band or rear right pocket and mak­ing a toss­ing mo­tion, drop­ping an ob­ject on the ground, the dis­trict at­tor­ney’s memo said. He raised his hands, then re­peated the move and re­moved some­thing from his left rear pocket, the memo said.

“You do it again, you’re go­ing to get shot,” yelled an of­fi­cer on the video, ac­cord­ing to the memo.

Diaz Ze­ferino re­moved his base­ball hat and low­ered his hands. As he be­gan to raise his hands again, three of the of­fi­cers opened f ire, the dis­trict at­tor­ney’s memo said.

At­tor­neys for Gar­dena noted in court pa­pers that the city “paid a pre­mium” to set­tle the law­suit with the un­der­stand­ing that the videos would not be made public.

An at­tor­ney for the state chiefs as­so­ci­a­tion made the same point in the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s le­gal brief.

“The de­fen­dants paid over $ 4 mil­lion to buy their peace,” the at­tor­ney wrote.

At­tor­neys for the fam­i­lies say they would like the videos made public. In Cal­i­for­nia, videos are rarely re­leased. But some other states are more forth­com­ing.

Alpert, the crim­i­nal jus­tice pro­fes­sor, said the case deals with a ba­sic ques­tion.

“Ei­ther you are trans­par­ent or you are not,” he said. “Clearly, the chiefs and sher­iffs’ ac­tions here speak loudly that they pre­fer to be se­cret.”

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