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Federal appeals court rules Gardena police shooting videos should remain public

A federal court ordered the release of police videos that show Gardena officers fatally shooting one unarmed man and wounding another in 2013.

A federal appeals court has ruled that a judge's decision to release videos of Gardena police shooting two unarmed men, one fatally, will not be put on hold while the city appeals the ruling.

Millions of people have already watched the videos on the Internet. The dashboard camera videos show three officers fatally shooting Ricardo Diaz Zeferino and wounding his friend Eutiquio Acevedo Mendez in 2013.

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A U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals panel on Tuesday declined an emergency motion by the city of Gardena to stay the July 14 ruling by U.S. District Judge Stephen Wilson, who found that the public had the right to see the videos. They were released that day by the court in Los Angeles to the Los Angeles Times and the Associated Press.

The panel noted that the motion was moot but did not elaborate on its reasoning. 

After ordering the videos be released, Wilson denied a request by Gardena attorneys that he set aside his order as they pursued an appeal of his decision.

The city then filed an emergency motion with the federal appeals court, asking it to intervene.

The Times, meanwhile, received copies of the videos from court officials and published them online.

After Wilson's decision, Gardena police Chief Ed Medrano said the city would continue to appeal because of wider implications for the use of video cameras by police.

In unsealing the videos, Wilson said the public had an interest in seeing the recordings, especially after the city settled a lawsuit over the shooting for $4.7 million.

Wilson rejected last-ditch efforts by Gardena attorneys, who argued the city had paid the settlement money in the belief that the videos would remain under seal.

The legal tussle comes as law enforcement agencies nationwide increasingly have embraced the use of cameras worn by officers and placed in patrol cars to record police interactions with civilians.

But few agencies have made their videos public, spurring a debate over the need to balance the privacy of those captured on the recordings with transparency in policing.

The grainy videos, captured by cameras mounted in three patrol cars, show three men mistakenly suspected of stealing a bicycle standing in a street under the glare of police lights. With their weapons trained on the men, officers scream at them to keep their hands up.

While two of the men in the videos remain motionless, Diaz Zeferino appears confused by the officers’ instructions. He drops and raises his arms repeatedly, showing the officers his hands and stepping backward and then forward a few paces.

A laser dot from an officers’ pistol can be seen on his shirt. After Diaz Zeferino removes a baseball cap from his head, officers standing to the side of the men unleash a volley of gunfire.

The videos show Diaz Zeferino, 35, collapsing to the ground, along with Mendez, who was wounded. 

For more Southern California crime news, follow @LAcrimes.

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