By barring the release of videos that recorded police fatally shooting an unarmed man, the city of Gardena is violating the public's right to information, three news companies, including the Los Angeles Times, argued in a motion submitted Monday to a federal judge.
The dashboard videos — under seal since February in a federal civil rights lawsuit — recorded parts of the June 2, 2013, shooting of Ricardo Diaz Zeferino, who was struck by eight bullets. Another man, Eutiquio Acevedo Mendez, suffered a gunshot wound.
Mendez and Diaz Zeferino's family filed the lawsuit in 2013. The case was settled last month for $4.7 million.
In their motion, The Times, the Associated Press and Bloomberg assert that as evidence lodged for a key pretrial argument, the videos should never have been sealed and must immediately be made available to the public in the interest of accountability.
“Access to the videos is critical for the public to have a full and accurate account of the proceedings that occurred before this court,” the motion states, adding that the city paid millions in taxpayer money “to settle allegations of alleged police misconduct.”
Gardena sought the seal by saying the videos showed gruesome images and revealed techniques used by police that, if shown, would breach a “law enforcement privilege,” according to court papers.
The city's attorneys also predicted the videos would scandalize the public, a “legitimate concern” given the current anti-police climate.
The Times and other news organizations disputed the idea that police have such a right to privacy or “law enforcement privilege,” noting that the shooting took place on a public street.
The night of the shooting, an officer responding to a reported bicycle theft saw two men riding bicycles on Redondo Beach Boulevard and stopped them, according to a memo written by a Los Angeles County prosecutor.
Diaz Zeferino ran up to the two men, his friends, and eventually held up his hands, according to the prosecutor's memo. Three more officers arrived and drew their guns.
According to prosecutors, Diaz Zeferino dropped his hands, reached into his waistband or pocket and made a tossing motion. He repeated the move, the memo said, and an officer warned him if he made the move again, he'd shoot him.
Diaz Zeferino removed his hat, lowered his hands, and as he began to raise his hands again, three officers opened fire, the memo said.