Gardena police shooting video: City Council silent but gets an earful

The Gardena City Council meeting Tuesday night started like any other.

There was the pledge of allegiance followed by an invocation and certificate awards, complete with posed photos. The meeting continued with commission appointments.

But there was no mention of Tuesday's release of police video showing Gardena officers shooting two unarmed men.

That was until Terry Kennedy, 73, a longtime Gardena resident, voiced his support for the video’s release.

"This particular video needs to be seen by people," Kennedy told the five-member council. "And I really object to the police or you for not allowing the video to be seen."

On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Stephen V. Wilson ruled that the public had an interest in seeing the grainy police dash-cam footage of Ricardo Diaz Zeferino being fatally shot by police in 2013.

Wilson allowed the video's release, rejecting last-ditch efforts by Gardena attorneys to keep it under seal while they appealed. Wilson found that a $4.7-million settlement the city reached with Zeferino’s family only bolstered the argument that the video should be available for viewing by taxpayers.

Kennedy, the Gardena resident, told the council: "Why should you hide what a police officer does in the performance of his or her duties of its capture on video -- either by police or privately?"

Not long ago, Gardena spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on its own police cameras, Kennedy argued.

The Gardena shooting occurred the night of June 2, 2013, after police responded to a call about a bicycle stolen from outside a CVS drugstore. A police dispatcher mistakenly told officers that the crime was a robbery, which typically involves weapons or force.

A sergeant responding to the call saw two men riding bicycles near the store. The men were friends of the man whose bike had been stolen and were helping him search for his bike.

Mistaking them for the thieves, the sergeant stopped the men, according to a memo written by a prosecutor from the L.A. County district attorney’s office who reviewed the case.

Diaz Zeferino, whose brother owned the stolen bicycle, ran up to join the other two men as police detained them.

One patrol car video shows him continuing to walk toward his friends despite an officer shouting at him to stop. On the videos, officers can be heard repeatedly telling Diaz Zeferino to keep his hands up as he moves his arms up and down.

The three officers who opened fire — Christopher Mendez, Christopher Sanderson and Matthew Toda — were standing to the left side of the men.

Diaz Zeferino was struck eight times. The second man shot, Eutiquio Acevedo Mendez, was hit once in the back and has recovered from his injuries.

The district attorney’s office declined to file charges against the officers. Deputy Dist. Atty. Rosa Alarcon wrote in a memo about the shooting that Diaz Zeferino’s right hand was no longer visible from the officers’ angle and that it was reasonable for them to believe he was reaching for a weapon.

“They made a split-second decision and they were not required to hold fire in order to ascertain whether Diaz would, in fact, injure or kill them,” she wrote.

Members of a Gardena family attending Tuesday's meeting who asked not to be identified said they hadn’t seen the video but remembered when the shooting occurred. The video’s release is important for police transparency, and the city undermines that when it resists releasing footage, they said.

The council members did not mention the judge’s ruling during their closing remarks at the meeting.

But Gardena Police Chief Ed Medrano approached Kennedy afterward and said the department accepted responsibility for the shooting and that the issue was balancing what they should and shouldn't release to the media and public.

Some Gardena residents are concerned how videos will be released since the city recently purchased police body cameras, he said.

"We haven't struck a balance on that yet, " Medrano said. "We have proper levels of accountability but at the same time we're also protecting their privacy, whether they are victims or witnesses."

He said the videos that recorded the shooting show the camera's viewpoint, not what the officers saw.

"It's not black and white," he said.

Kennedy agreed there needs to be a balance and witnesses should be protected, but said that argument didn't apply in the case of officers shooting unarmed men.

"I understand it's complicated," Kennedy said. "But the objections that he had don't fit this one."

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