SAN DIEGO (CN) - A federal judge made a swift decision on Wednesday to unseal surveillance video footage of the shooting death of an unarmed mentally ill man by a San Diego police officer.
After hearing arguments Tuesday on San Diego media outlets’ request to unseal the footage, U.S. District Judge William Hayes of the Southern District of California lifted the protected order. The order will stay in effect for the next seven days, however, to allow any party in the case to file an appeal.
Hayes heard arguments Tuesday presented by media outlets Voice of San Diego, KPBS, The Union Tribune, Inewsource and KGTV Channel 10 news on why there was not good cause to keep video taken by a security camera in a public alley in Point Loma sealed.
Attorney Guylyn Cummins, representing the outlets, said the media wants the tape unsealed so the family of slain 42-year-old Fridoon Rawshan Nehad could share their copy of the video publicly.
Officer Neal Browder, a 27-year veteran of the San Diego Police Department, shot and killed Nehad on April 30 while responding to a call of a man threatening people with a knife. Police later confirmed Nehad was unarmed and was holding a metallic pen at the time of the shooting.
Browder was wearing a body camera at the time of the shooting but failed to turn it on before making contact with Nehad, prompting the department to change its policy so officers are required to activate their cameras “prior to their arrival on radio calls that are likely to result in an enforcement contact.”
Chief Shelley Zimmerman has said repeatedly she would not make public footage captured from body cameras except in the case of a “riot-type situation” where public safety is a risk.
The media outlets originally sought access to the footage through a public records request that was denied by the department, which cited an exemption in the state’s Public Records Act for denying access to records used in an ongoing investigation.
“The public has a clear interest in investigating officer-involved shootings and the media have oversight duties,” Cummins said. “People on both sides of the camera can see what is really occurring and just how important to democracy these pieces of evidence are.”
The outlets claim the police department and city hunkered down so the public would not see the video, and the business that has a copy of the video is afraid to share it with the public without a court order.
Now that the order has been lifted, Nehad’s family can share their copy of the video with the outlets and the public. The family said they were required to enter into the order before they were allowed to view and get a copy of the video.
San Diego District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis said last month she would not file criminal charges against Browder, but attorneys for the city said during the hearing a federal investigation into the shooting may be opened.
“We are pleased with the judge’s decision,” Cummins said. “We think the information shielded from the protective order is important for the public to see.”
At least five city council members also announced via Twitter they would not vote to fight the order, including David Alvarez, Todd Gloria, Myrtle Cole, Scott Sherman and Chris Cate.
It is unknown if Browder will appeal, and his attorneys did not return a phone call requesting comment.
This story was originally published by Courthouse News.
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