Three newly released dash cam videos show the dramatic moment that police in California shot and killed an unarmed man and wounded another in a Los Angeles suburb two years ago.
A federal judge on Tuesday ordered the Gardena Police Department to release the videos, filmed by dashboard cameras in three police patrol vehicles on June 2, 2013. The order came after several media outlets, including the Los Angeles Times and The Associated Press, requested access to the footage because of the recent rash of police shootings across the country.
The videos show three police officers drawing their weapons on 35-year-old Ricardo Diaz-Zeferino and his two friends, whom the officers mistakenly suspected of stealing a bicycle.
In the footage, two of the men obeyed police commands to raise their hands above their heads. However, the third man, identified as Diaz-Zeferino, was reportedly drunk and possibly confused by the officers' commands. Witnesses said Diaz-Zeferino was trying to tell officers that they were stopping the wrong men, Daily Herald reported.
The cameras recorded Diaz-Zeferino lowering and raising his hands several times before removing a baseball hat from his head and swinging his hands down to his waist. The action prompted the officers to discharge their weapons several times, striking Diaz-Zeferino eight times and his friend, Eutiquio Acevedo Mendez, once.
Paramedics reportedly took almost 10 minutes to respond to the shooting. Mendez survived his injuries, but Diaz-Zeferino was pronounced dead at the scene.
The police were investigating the theft of a bicycle belonging to Diaz-Zeferino's brother at the time of the shooting, according to The Associated Press. Diaz-Zeferino and his two friends were reportedly looking for the bike when the officers approached them.
The Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office declined to file charges against the officers in the aftermath of the shootings.
"They made a split-second decision and they were not required to hold fire in order to ascertain whether [Diaz-Zeferino] would, in fact, injure or kill them," Deputy District Attorney Rosa Alarcon wrote in a memo, reported The Los Angeles Times.
However, the two victims' families sued the city of Gardena and ultimately settled the case for $4.7 million. The videos and other evidence in the case remained under seal until Tuesday, when Judge Stephen V. Wilson ruled in favor of the media's request to release the videos.
"We applaud the court's decision to unseal the video," said AP spokesman Paul Colford said. "The Associated Press, joining with other news organizations, believes it's important that the public has access to videos like this to better understand the actions of their police officers."
After the judge's ruling, Gardena Police Chief Ed Medrano issued a statement calling the shooting a tragedy "for all involved." His office had opposed releasing the videos.
"We have thoroughly reviewed our response and have initiated new training, including the tactical use of cover techniques to slow down fast-moving events," Medrano said.
Yet while the civil suit is settled and the videos have been released, the case could be far from closed. Samuel Paz, an attorney for Diaz-Zeferino's family, said he may ask federal prosecutors to investigate whether the shooting constitutes a civil rights violation.
"I think it is really helpful for the public to understand why they would be willing to pay $4.7 million to settle the case when we were on the eve of trial," Paz said. "When the public sees the video and other law enforcement agencies see the video, this is very much a criminal act."
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