During an investigation of a stolen bike in 2013, officers interrogated Ricardo Diaz-Zeferino — who was looking for his brother’s bike — and two of his friends. In the recently disclosed dash cam video, officers yell at the three men to raise their hands. After holding his hands above his head, Diaz-Zeferino lifts his hat, drops his hands, and tries to pull up his pants. Then he is shot eight times by three officers, who claimed they feared the man was armed. Eutiquio Acevedo Mendez was also shot once but survived the shooting.
The District Attorney later ruled the shooting was justified, although the City of Gardena consented to paying the family of Diaz-Zeferino $4.7 million. But the Gardena Police Department and city officials kept the dash cam footage sealed, arguing the video’s circulation could lead to pre-judgment of the officers. On Tuesday, Wilson wrote that the city could not withhold the video on those grounds.
“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 lengthy decision. “Moreover, defendants cannot assert a valid compelling interest in sealing the videos to cover up any wrongdoing on their part or to shield themselves from embarrassment.”
The federal appeals court issued an emergency stay pending appeal, but not before the Los Angeles Times obtained and circulated the footage.
Aside from the video itself, Wilson’s point about taxpayer money is relevant, given the number of police shootings and brutality incidents that occur every year. Though it’s extremely rare for an officer to face consequences, city governments dish out large sums of money to settle civil rights suits. On Monday, New York City agreed to pay the family of Eric Garner $5.9 million. But settlement money does not come from the officers involved or their departments. Most do not pay a dime. Instead, taxpayers foot the bill.