Judge Orders Release Of Dashcam Footage City Officials Thought They Had Paid To Keep Buried

from the city-calls-it-a-settlement,-treats-it-like-a-bribe dept

A federal judge has ordered the unsealing of dashcam footage depicting several Gardena (CA) police officers shooting unarmed men (one of them inadvertently). The city’s representatives fought the release of this video for several reasons, none of which appear to be the actual reason: that the video contradicts statements from the involved officers.

Here’s the video:


One of the documents the city chose to release was the District Attorney’s report on the shooting. This is where the contradictions begin. Obviously, the city thought this would be the last word in the civil suit. Statements from multiple officers all suggest the same thing: the man they intentionally shot (another caught bullet fragments to the spine during the hail of gunfire) made several “threatening” moves that left officers with no other choice but to open fire.

The 14-page report is an echo chamber. Officers, responding to a call about a bike theft, encountered three Hispanic males walking with bicycles. Having reached the unfounded conclusion that these were the suspects, they detained the men. (“Detained” being a fancy word for drew their weapons and shouted a lot.)

The report contains repeated claims by multiple officers that aren’t matched by the events depicted in the video. Officers claim Ricardo Diaz Zeferino “ran towards them” and made “furtive movements” in the general area of his waistband. While the video does show Zeferino having problems keeping his hands above his head, it doesn’t show much in the way of “furtive movements.” It definitely doesn’t show his hand “hovering” over his back pocket.

The document is a fascinating depiction of all the things that could possibly make an officer fearful — an emotion that usually results in “discharged weapons,” to use the deflective parlance of hundreds of officer-involved shooting reports: “furtive movements,” other officers “seeming scared,” right elbow “bowing out,” “losing sight” of a hand, “big swinging motion” of Diaz’s right hand, “manipulating something on the right side of his body,” and so on. How a motion can simultaneously be “furtive” and “big and swinging” is beyond me, but then again, I rarely have to explain why I’ve shot an unarmed person.

Beyond that, there’s additional claims made to buttress the righteous shoot. Diaz had a “maniacal grin.” Diaz’s movements became “faster and more deliberate.” An officer expresses his disbelief that Diaz would ignore an order to keep his hands up, believing such disregard for authority to be indicative of Diaz’s intent to kill. Another officer states he believes Diaz was “testing [the officers’] limits” and “closing the ground” between them.

Considering the official background of the shooting, it’s hardly surprising the city spent several months fighting to keep this video from reaching the public. Now that it has been made public, the police department has gone into damage-control mode. At best, its efforts are inept.

Police have said the shooting was justified and that the dash cam videos from the squad cars don’t tell the whole story. An attorney for the city said this week that one of the videos “looks bad” but that it was not taken from the perspective of officers.

I have no doubt that if the video were more exonerating, the city would have never a) fought the release or b) claimed the video “didn’t tell the whole story.” And the claim that a dashcam video is somehow not a police officer’s “perspective” is completely laughable.

Even more laughable is one of the city’s arguments in favor of keeping the video sealed. It basically told the judge that the high-dollar settlement was offered in part to buy silence and secrecy.

The Court’s rationale for sealing the subject videos was the parties’ stipulated protective order—entered against the backdrop of stalled litigation. However, the parties cannot contractually agree to deprive the public of its strong First Amendment interest in accessing these videos, which were filed in connection with a dispositive motion. Defendants assert that the videos should remain sealed because they agreed to settle the case for $4.7 million—an amount above their liability insurance policy—specifically because they expected the protective order to continue and the videos to remain secret.

The court is unimpressed by the city’s “Hey, we paid good money to make this go away” argument:

However, Defendants’ argument backfires here—the fact that they spent the city’s money, presumably derived from taxes, only strengthens the public’s interest in seeing the videos. Moreover, Defendants cannot assert a valid compelling interest in sealing the videos to cover up any wrongdoing on their part or to shield themselves from embarrassment. The only valid privacy interest in this case belongs to the Plaintiffs, who have made abundantly clear that they wish the videos to be made available to the public.

Moreover, while the videos are potentially upsetting and disturbing because of the events they depict, they are not overly gory or graphic in a way that would make them a vehicle for improper purposes.

Reason’s Ed Krayewski points out that this is exactly why so many cities offer to settle cases like this so quickly.

Generally such settlements include no admission of guilt by the city—the cops involved usually keep their job, and the settlement money always comes from taxpayers, not from police officers, their unions, or their pension funds. Settlements effectively end discussions on police brutality because many people view them as victories even though they come without admissions of guilt and with the punitive bill being picked up by taxpayers, not cops.

But it didn’t work here. The city paid out and still has to deal with the repercussions of its officers’ actions. It has already filed an appeal with the Ninth Circuit Court. And it has received the most useless of temporary restraining orders in response:

After The Times published the videos online, 9th Circuit Judge Alex Kozinski issued an order that “the police car camera video footage shall remain under seal pending further order of this court.”

And, as long as we’re talking about transparency, let’s discuss the other parties involved in this case. “Interested media organizations” — including the Associated Press, the LA Times and Bloomberg News — all filed motions in support of the video’s release. And while all were more than happy to post the video as soon as it was released, not a single one of them could be bothered to post the court order that gave them access to this footage. Once again, media outlets continue to pretend public court records are somehow proprietary information. Articles quote from the order, but apparently the $1.30 they paid to download it from PACER (if these outlets paid anything at all) entitles them to interpret public documents on our behalf, rather than allow us to read them for ourselves.



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Comments on “Judge Orders Release Of Dashcam Footage City Officials Thought They Had Paid To Keep Buried”

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57 Comments
That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: AC claiming that murder is fine when a cop does it? Check.

high on meth

Not a ‘kill on sight’ crime.

one of worst neighborhoods for gang violence in america

Not a ‘kill on sight’ crime, or criminal at all.

continues to screw with the police after multiple warnings by reaching in pockets

Not a ‘kill on sight’ crime.

It is fun trying to excuse cold-blooded murder, or are you really that twisted that an action that would be blatantly illegal if done by anyone else is suddenly acceptable when a cop does it?

Anonymous Coward says:

we all know that being a police officer is a dangerous job and those officers have to be alert and on the look out at all times, not just to protect the public but also to protect themselves. the ‘protecting the public’ is part of why they took the job in the first place, surely, that and trying to make the various areas more safe. but i cannot understand why it is that at every single incident there always appears to be an officer who is either ‘trigger happy’, or is so scared he/she cannot help but pull the trigger regardless of what is going on and how the incident is playing out or is so psyched up that they just want to kill someone, even if there is no actual threat, other than the imaginary one in their mind!! it just seems to me that no one is safe because if the local ‘hoods’ dont get you, the police will!! i’m surprised anyone even dares to venture out, but then with the USA getting ever closer to being a total ‘Police State’, that may be nearer to reality than we think!!

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re:

but i cannot understand why it is that at every single incident there always appears to be an officer who is either ‘trigger happy’, or is so scared he/she cannot help but pull the trigger regardless of what is going on and how the incident is playing out or is so psyched up that they just want to kill someone, even if there is no actual threat, other than the imaginary one in their mind!!

It’s thanks to a mix of two factors.

First, police are trained to always see the public as a threat, and are always told by the ones training them and the ones they work with that everyone they meet intends to harm and/or kill them, and therefor they are constantly seeing threats even when none exist.

Second, the system is so stacked in their favor that if you’re a cop who happens to want to cause bodily harm or even kill someone for looking at you funny, you can rest assured that your buddies on the force, and the court will have your back, allowing you to literally get away with murder. As you can imagine, this attracts a lot of sadists and sociopaths, eager to sign up for a job where they can pretty much do anything they want and never suffer any real consequences for it.

MikeC (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

“First, police are trained to always see the public as a threat”

Cop has no choice in this. If it means that 999/1000 people do not intend him harm, 1/1000 the cop is dead. He has to treat every situation as potentially lethal or know that he will not make it home sometime in his career.

Now the stacked in his favor part I support. It’s that way because the same folks who review depend on the cops to do the job for them… sort of a built in conflict of interest. There needs to be an independent review somehow.

MikeC (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Maybe/maybe not but when you the result of not being prepared it your family buries you — then you can’t afford not to be prepared “each and every time” you face any situation. Maybe cop’s need better tools. They tried taser’s but they can kill too (not as surely as a .40S&W round) but public outrage is still the same. So they get hit for doing that … it’s a no-win situation but that doesn’t excuse this clearly criminal act.

It sucks but it’s the world, we put cops in a position where they are never judged reasonably so they seem to be resulting more and more to brute force when considered communication and restraint in their actions would be called for. When you deal with the dregs of society you get to the point that you see every interaction as adversarial to the extreme.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

You are lost.

The risk an officer takes is not that significantly different than normal crime. The statistics seem to imply that there are a lot of other jobs with greater risk than cop.

Additionally, a Cops ‘concept’ of personal safety does not actually trump citizen rights. The constitution does not say that citizens rights end when a police officer “feels” threatened. Threats must be legitimate before they can employ deadly force in defense of their life or others.

Being a cop is definitely a tough job, no one is really saying otherwise, but that difficulty is hardly justification for giving officers a pass on bad behavior.

The moment a member of law enforcement can no longer see the citizenship as fellow humans to ‘serve and protect’ instead of ‘the enemy’ is the moment they need to be removed from the force. Cause lately, they serve the public very little and protect practically nothing except their egos.

TechRick (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

I don’t think anyone means they shouldn’t be prepared for a threat. What needs to be done, at the academy level, besides teaching them how to shoot, is to condition a mind set that teaches threat awareness AND self-discipline. What I mean by self-discipline is, upon completion of threat assessment, you then switch to an observation state to determine if the major player in a situation is becoming aggressive or making DEFINITE threatening movements before opening fire. The guy in the video looked like he had to hold his pants up but did not make any threatening gestures. FIRST rule of engagement- Identify your target. SECOND- do not open fire unless there is a definite threat. Didn’t see one of those anywhere, and I watched this frame by frame. Cop didn’t use rule number 2.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Cop has no choice in this. If it means that 999/1000 people do not intend him harm, 1/1000 the cop is dead. He has to treat every situation as potentially lethal or know that he will not make it home sometime in his career.

There are plenty of jobs more dangerous than that of police work, yet that doesn’t give the ones in those jobs excuse to open fire ‘just in case’. As such, I fail to see how cops should get a pass because they might be in danger of suffering significant harm at some point during their career.

A cop wants to make it home alive, fine, I get that and to that extent I don’t have a problem with it. It’s when they do so by making it so that someone else doesn’t make it home alive that I have a problem with their actions.

The job can be dangerous, I agree, but that shouldn’t give them the right to gun someone down unless presented with a clear and present threat to their life or the life of someone else that can only be resolved with immediate lethal force, and it should never give them the right to do so without repercussions. Every death caused by a cop should receive the same scrutiny and treatment that any other death receives, not just brushed aside by clearly biased parties and given a pass.

MikeC (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

“There are plenty of jobs more dangerous than that of police work, yet that doesn’t give the ones in those jobs excuse to open fire ‘just in case’. As such, I fail to see how cops should get a pass because they might be in danger of suffering significant harm at some point during their career.”

That is not you said in the first message, you said they are trained to view the public as a danger and I said of course they are, because there is a chance in every case that the public they are dealing with is lethal. You should wear a seat belt every time you drive “in case you get in an accident not because you are going to get into one”. The cop has to treat each case as lethal jeopardy because it might be and to not be ready for that is a death wish.

Does that mean they should kill folks on a whim, NO WAY!! The cops in this case should be prosecuted for murder. The over stepped their authority, committing a criminal act that can’t be justified. That is not a reason for any cop not to be ready to respond to a lethal threat in every case, they can’t afford otherwise. What they need to do is be able restrain that lethality when it’s not required. Just because you need to be ready to kill doesn’t mean you have too.

MikeC (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

“There are plenty of jobs more dangerous than that of police work, yet that doesn’t give the ones in those jobs excuse to open fire ‘just in case’. As such, I fail to see how cops should get a pass because they might be in danger of suffering significant harm at some point during their career.”

That is not you said in the first message, you said they are trained to view the public as a danger and I said of course they are, because there is a chance in every case that the public they are dealing with is lethal. You should wear a seat belt every time you drive “in case you get in an accident not because you are going to get into one”. The cop has to treat each case as lethal jeopardy because it might be and to not be ready for that is a death wish.

Does that mean they should kill folks on a whim, NO WAY!! The cops in this case should be prosecuted for murder. The over stepped their authority, committing a criminal act that can’t be justified. That is not a reason for any cop not to be ready to respond to a lethal threat in every case, they can’t afford otherwise. What they need to do is be able restrain that lethality when it’s not required. Just because you need to be ready to kill doesn’t mean you have too.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

That is not you said in the first message, you said they are trained to view the public as a danger and I said of course they are, because there is a chance in every case that the public they are dealing with is lethal.

Or might not have been, if the people they were facing weren’t fearing for their lives, faced with someone who can gun them down on a whim and knows it.

A phrase I’m fond of is ‘Self-fulfilling prophecy’, and it fits this situation quite well. By acting as though the public is the enemy, and treating them as such, the public becomes the enemy, because they can no longer trust that the police have any interest in protecting and helping anyone but themselves.

Their training, and the actions that follow from it, only make things worse for everyone, including the police.

The cop has to treat each case as lethal jeopardy because it might be and to not be ready for that is a death wish.

No, they don’t, and in fact shouldn’t. By acting in such a manner, they unnecessarily escalate otherwise harmless situations, leading to deaths that could have easily been avoided were they not taught ‘shoot first, ask questions never’.

Their job is that of protecting others, putting themselves at risk to do so if needed. If they want to prioritize their own safety over the safety or lives of others, then they chose the wrong job, and need to quit.

That is not a reason for any cop not to be ready to respond to a lethal threat in every case, they can’t afford otherwise.

Define ‘lethal threat’. Is it someone holding a gun? Someone holding something that might be a gun? Someone who you can’t see both hands of? Someone with a hand in their pocket/jacket? Someone acting ‘funny’? Someone who takes a swing at them?

The problem with the idea that they should be ready to respond to ‘lethal threats’ is that it’s been expanded such that pretty much anything qualifies these days, leading to a lot of corpses. Should they be ready to defend themselves or others? Sure, but lethal force should be the absolute last resort, even if that means taking a risk on a potential threat.

As your last line notes, just because they can, doesn’t mean they should, but these days they absolutely are, and a lot of the reason behind that is because they’ve been so trained in the idea of public=threat, and act accordingly.

Klaus says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

Well said.

I’m not sure that the two commenters above who seem to endorse what happened actually watched the video. It shows the event from two angles and to my eyes the victim merely lowered his arms, not reaching for his pocket as has been suggested, and was shot. Not even a hint of anything “lethal”.

There is no excuse. The cop was trigger happy.

TechRick (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Re:

Did you just really say that? The job pf any peace officer, sheriff, state or local police is to, and I quote from the side of many police cars “To Protect and Serve”. Detectives investigate crimes, PO on the street patrol to display a presence, which in turn is supposed to deter criminal activity. Their job is to protect the citizens of their jurisdiction, if it isn’t then why call them when there is a problem? So they can come watch?

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:6 Re:

The job pf any peace officer, sheriff, state or local police is to, and I quote from the side of many police cars “To Protect and Serve”.

That’s just a slogan on a car. A particular police officer has no legal duty to protect any particular citizen.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Warren_v._District_of_Columbia

MarkH says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

When you sign-up, you know that the career is potentially lethal and that at some point you may not make it home. What’s honorable is that you have explicitly committed, and are ready, to give your life to protect and serve your community.
The people who believe that “every situation is potentially lethal” are called soldiers and are trained specifically to kill. Unless you are a member of a SWAT-like team that’s called into an already escalated situation, rolling out everyday in your patrol car with that attitude is already disastrous.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

It is very much a choice.

Strangely enough, in other parts of the world, cops are trained to use far less lethal force – I once witnessed a Dutch police officer spend 20 minutes convincing a guy with a machete to just give it to him.

This was on a busy street, no guns drawn, no massive ‘cordon’ – just one cop & his partner with patience and empathy. The guy was obviously mentally ill or on drugs, he had been living in the phone booth next to my house for months.

In the US, he almost certainly would have been shot. There is no reason for this, it’s really just an attitude & training problem. On top of it, police violence begets more violent suspects, it’s a vicious circle.

Anonymous Coward says:

“After The Times published the videos online, 9th Circuit Judge Alex Kozinski issued an order that “the police car camera video footage shall remain under seal pending further order of this court.””

And now that the video has been published and people have copied them to which there are copies now located outside of the US jurisdiction then good luck to them with having the video removed entirely from the internet. If piracy can’t be stopped then the entire removal of this video from the internet isn’t going to happen.

DB (profile) says:

According to the following website, so far in 2015 about as many police have died in automobile accidents as from gunfire.

https://www.odmp.org/search/year?year=2015

Many of those were described as “left the roadway” or “crossed the centerline”. Only a few were during a pursuit, which is a separate category.

Note that you have to read the descriptions to get an accurate count, since some seem to stretch the definition of a police fatality (e.g. a police dog killed in an accident, cancer described as 9/11-related).

There were 11 deaths from heart attacks, 1/6 of the total. It seems odd to count those as police deaths when comparing the count to people killed by police.

tom (profile) says:

Besides being charged for the shooting itself the officers should face charges for Obstruction of Justice and Conspiracy to Obstruct Justice for lying about the incident. They probably lied during the initial verbal “shooting incident” investigation and again when they turned in their signed reports. Since they probably got together to get their stories straight, that would be the Conspiracy.

And it shouldn’t end with just the officers at the scene. Their superiors had to know the officer’s testimony didn’t match what the video showed and yet chose to back the officer’s accounts. These superiors should also face Obstruction and Conspiracy charges for helping with the cover-up.

GEMont (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Too bad there is no way to actually initiate the inclusion of laws that protect the general public from criminal members of the justice system, in exactly that manner.

I mean someone could suggest them, but there is nobody in the legal profession, or law enforcement, or government, in the United States, that would even consider allowing such travesties of injustice to become reality.

Suggest such changes to the law too loudly or often and the members of the law industry just might find a legal excuse to protect itself, by removing your ability to breathe air ever again.

Welcome to the Fascist States of America.

AJ says:

If this keeps up, people will start perceiving interaction with the police as a possible lethal encounter… see how that works both ways?

They see a cop with a gun drawn, they will assume they are about to get shot regardless if they’ve done anything wrong or not. Fight or flight instinct kicks in, since it’s hard to run from a bullet they may decide to engage. Just because the Police Officer had a gun drawn, the engagement now becomes lethal. They could cause the very situation they are trying to avoid.

OGquaker (profile) says:

LAPD guns, over and over and over

A little of my 27 years in the Hood:

lone 14 year old shot 5 times across the street, ‘gang colors’; dead by LAPD. I’m told i will ‘go to jail the hard way’.

Traffic stop, big red drop-top caddy, guns in my face (i’m watching from sidewalk in front of the house), guns in father’s face, kids face down on hot pavement.

LAPD chases suspected burglar up this driveway and ‘arrest’, i spend a few days washing away the blood.

My church let’s out on Sunday, then LAPD stops and writes ‘ticket’ to a local black child on his bike, AMONG US WHITES AS WE STAND ON SAME SIDEWALK.

My 75 year old black neighbor was shot dead by the LAPD last year on the back lawn of his own gorgeus home in broad daylight. The TV news interviews were of an unknown actor-witness, placing nonsensical blame on the homeowner.

And, every time anyone calls 911 in the Hood, it goes badly for us; we haven’t seen a black LAPD officer in a patrol car in ten years. Except- all local motorcycle officers are black.

What the Phuc would i know?

Archie1954 says:

Murder

Nothing in this article goes to the main reason the public should be interested in this video. it is clear from the film that the officers had no reason to shoot the poor victim. he had no weapon and he made no move toward them or to menace them in any way. The police simply murdered him in cold blood. Now the question is where are the charges? Why aren’t these officers subject to murder charges? If not murder how about gross negligence causing death or manslaughter? I simply see a corrupt and discredited judicial system doing what it does best in such circumstances, nothing!

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