Crime & Justice

Gardena police shooting update: Family, attorney of unarmed man fatally shot ask for civil rights investigation

The brother of a man fatally shot by Gardena police holds photo of two of them at news conference calling for a federal investigation Wednesday July 15, 2015.
The brother of a man fatally shot by Gardena police holds photo of two of them at news conference calling for a federal investigation Wednesday July 15, 2015.
Frank Stoltze/ KPCC
The brother of a man fatally shot by Gardena police holds photo of two of them at news conference calling for a federal investigation Wednesday July 15, 2015.
Video was released to news outlets for the first time Tuesday showing Gardena police shooting an unarmed man in 2013.
Associated Press via YouTube


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An attorney for the family of a Gardena man fatally shot by Gardena police in 2013 on Wednesday asked for a federal civil rights investigation. Attorney Sonia Mercado's remarks came at a morning press conference in response to the release of videos showing the fateful encounter between police and Ricardo Diaz Zeferino after a botched report of a bicycle theft. Three media outlets had pushed for the video's release after the city settled for $4.7 million with Diaz Zeferino's family. A judge granted their request, saying it was in the public's interest to know why that city money was being spent.

Updates

Update 5:21 p.m. Friend describes what shooting was like; brother calls for police to be suspended

Eutiquio Mendez was standing a few feet from Ricardo Diaz Zeferino, the unarmed man fatally shot by Gardena police. Diaz Zeferino was a friend he regularly hung out with.

"The only thing I heard was him falling and simply crying, telling me 'this is the end,'" Mendez said in Spanish. "I’m not going to see you again. At that moment, I fell unconscious. I have no recollection after that."

Mendez was hit once in the back.

Diaz Zeferino's brother Augustin Reynoso also attended the news conference. Reynoso held a photo of he and his brother.

“In this photo, it's me and my brother," Reynoso said in Spanish. "We were good brothers. He worried about me and he took care of my parents and sisters. He worked a lot for my dad, and he helped my sister financially when she had her leg amputated.”

Reynoso says he wants the officers who shot his brother suspended.  The family attorney says the officers have faced no discipline.

Frank Stoltze/KPCC

Update 3:21 p.m. People react to the Gardena police shooting video

The shooting happened on Redondo Beach Boulevard — a row of strip malls that runs through the center of this 60,000-person town.

A couple blocks off the strip, Espy Cortez was leaving Gardena Valley Baptist church, where her kids attend summer Bible school. Cortez, a resident of Gardena, says she’s always been a fan of Gardena police — but the video has her questioning her support of the department.

“For right now, I’m almost still kind of in shock," Cortez said.
 
That's because, in the video, the man shot dead by police doesn’t appear to be a threat. He’s seen putting his hands over his head, then fussing with his hat and waving his arms before falling to the ground, shot.
 
“For that person, for their family, my heart goes out to them," Cortez said.
 
Down the street, at Caffebene, USC social work student Nadira Greer was studying. She says these sorts of videos should be made public more often.
 
“It would definitely put a lot of these police officers who feel that they can do whatever they want because they’re a police officer in jail," Greer said.
 
Gardena’s elected officials didn’t respond to KPCC’s requests for comment. Gardena Police Chief Ed Medrano said in a statement that training for police has been improved since the 2013 incident. He also said publicizing videos of this nature raises serious privacy concerns.

Rina Palta/KPCC

Updated 12:35 p.m.: Beck wary of releasing police shooting videos

Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck on Wednesday called the public release of police videos "a very difficult issue" with logistical, ethical and legal implications that all need to be considered.

Beck's comments came on the same day a video was released showing the fatal police shooting of Ricardo Diaz Zeferino in Gardena in 2013. Three media outlets pushed for its release after the city settled for $4.7 million with Diaz Zeferino's family. A judge granted their request, saying it was in the public's interest to know why that city money was being spent.(Caption: Patt Morrison and Chief Charlie Beck chat on AirTalk on Wednesday, July 15, 2015.)

"We have over a million video contents in archive right now. Over a million," Beck told guest host Patt Morrison on KPCC's AirTalk. "And that number will grow exponentially as we roll out body cameras to all of our police officers and video becomes omnipresent with our cars. And so just the sheer weight of discovery to release videos is huge."

In addition to logistical consideration, Beck said the blanket release of such videos should raise concerns over privacy:

"If you call me to your house because you have a domestic issue, because of a neighbor dispute, because of any of the million other things that people call the police do, do you want that content made public? You want that to be something that can be seen by everybody? I think that violates the contract, the social contract that the police have with people. I think that when you call me to your house and want to talk to me about something that happened to your children, you want to talk to me about something that's happened to you of a personal nature? I don't think we should make that public. I don't think that's fair."

Beck's response was more nuanced when it came to officer-involved shootings:

"Now, the officer involved shooting, that may be a different matter. I think that this is something that we have to come to terms with as a society. But you also have to remember, that in almost all these circumstances, that video is going to be used as evidence. Either in a civil trial or a criminal trial. We have to protect that evidence by not tainting it and let everybody see it."

— KPCC staff

Updated 11:22 a.m.: Family, attorney ask for civil rights investigation

An attorney for the family of a Gardena man fatally shot by Gardena police in 2013 has asked for a federal civil rights investigation.

Attorney Sonia Mercado's remarks came at a morning press conference in response to the release of videos showing the fateful encounter between Ricardo Diaz Zeferino and police.

Caption: Attorney Sonia Mercado (L) and Augustine Reynoso (R), speak at a press conference calling for a civil rights investigation Wednesday, July 15, 2015.

Mercardo said the videos allow the public to see for themselves what took place shortly after police stopped Diaz Zeferino and two others suspected of stealing a bike.

"The public can be the judge of what really happened that night," she said, adding the family had been searching for justice, not money. 

Diaz Zeferino's brother, Augustine Reynoso, holding aloft a picture of the two of them embracing, said he wanted to bring the Gardena police department to account for the death of his brother.

"Money is not what's important in life. Life is what's important in life," he said through Mercado, who translated his comments. "I want justice to be done. I want the Gardena Police Department to be investigated more deeply. That's why I'm here."

The Associated Press made available via YouTube the following video showing multiple angles of the incident (WARNING: GRAPHIC CONTENT):

Video

The video acquired by and made available Tuesday by the Los Angeles Times and AP shows two of three angles described in a Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office review of the shooting of Ricardo Diaz Zeferino.

Not shown is an angle referred to as "Video 1" in the DA's review which shows Diaz Zeferino running into view. According to the DA's report:

(Diaz Zeferino) first appears on the video at 2:32:35 running eastbound on the south sidewalk of Redondo Beach Boulevard. There is no sound. As he crosses a side street he appears to slow his pace to a rapid walk. A light shines in (Diaz Zeferino's) direction and a male voice yells, "Stop, Stop," and "Sientate" which is Spanish for sit down.

(Diaz Zeferino) continues walking at the same speed and in the same direction.

Just before disappearing from the camera's view, (Diaz Zeferino) raises his hands, pounds his chest with both hands and gestures outward with his hands. (Diaz Zeferino) appears to say something but it is inaudible. The male voice simultaneously repeatedly says, "Stop" and "Alto." After (Diaz Zeferino) is outside of view of the camera, police sirens are heard approaching from a distance and the male voice screams, "Alto" four times in succession.

Two patrol cars appear in view of the camera travelling eastbound on Redondo Beach Boulevard with lights and sirens activated. They stop in the street, side by side, facing eastbound. Three officers emerge from the vehicles with guns drawn, pointing eastbound at various angles. A male voice simultaneously says, "Get your hands up, you're going to get shot." One officer steps onto the sidewalk and takes several steps eastbound away from the patrol car, which was parked closest to the curb. The other two officers remain near the passenger and driver's side of the sports utility vehicle, which was closest to the camera. Several male voices repeatedly yell, "Get your hands up," "Put your hands up," and "Manos Arriba." Another male voice says, "You do it again, you're going to get shot." Moments later, at 2:33:46, multiple shots are fired.

“I thought it was a bad shooting,” said Peter Moskos, a former Baltimore police officer who is a professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York.

“I did not see a threat,” he said. “You can’t shoot someone for non-compliance.”

The video shows Diaz Zeferino raising and dropping his hands, but that's not enough reason for officers to shoot, said Moskos, “especially when he was holding something that was not a weapon – it was his hat.”

Missy O'Linn, the attorney representing both the city of Gardena and the officers involved, told KPCC's A Martinez her clients were dismayed by the judge's decision to release the video.

"We're disappointed with the judge's order of course," she said. "We would have appreciated the opportunity — as is appropriate in this civil procedure — for us to have an appeal that was effective. By releasing the information immediately, he circumvented our opportunity to appeal. We literally filed our notice of appeal within four minutes of receiving the order."

O'Linn said the judge's actions didn't do justice to the family members or the public, and only fueled a media circus surrounding the incident.

"The fact is that there are three different camera angles, and if you take one camera angle and just throw it out to the public, the fact is that the public's interest is not served," she said. "The media is not, quite frankly, typically interested in the totality of the circumstances. They're interested in the sensationalistic view of what happened."

O'Linn added that her clients intend to appeal the decision to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, and if need be, to the Supreme Court.

"This is a major issue in the United States. How is this going to be handled?," she said.

— KPCC staff

10:36 a.m.: Family, attorney of unarmed man fatally shot to hold press conference

The attorney and family members of an unarmed man shot fatally by Gardena police in 2013 will speak publicly Wednesday at 11 p.m. Video of the incident was ordered released for the first time Tuesday to news outlets. 

Judge Stephen V. Wilson unsealed the video so the public could see what led the city of Gardena to pay $4.7 million to settle a lawsuit with Ricardo Diaz Zeferino's family and another man wounded in the shooting. The incident followed a botched report of a bicycle theft early the morning of June 2, 2013, Associated Press reported.

Diaz Zeferino was shot several times after police asked him to put his hands up and video shows him putting his hands down. Eutiquio Acevedo Mendez was shot once but survived the encounter.

"The fact that they spent the city's money, presumably derived from taxes, only strengthens the public's interest in seeing the videos," Wilson wrote in a 13-page decision. "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," according to AP.

Although the order was stayed by a federal appeals court late in the day, it came hours after the court had released what Wilson said were videos "potentially upsetting and disturbing because of the events they depict," but "not overly gory or graphic," AP reported.

The Gardena police department, who appealed the video’s release, said in a statement Tuesday night that everyone who needed to see the video, including the family of Diaz Zeferino and Acevedo, already had the opportunity to see it.

“As our lawyers expressed in court, we have serious privacy concerns as it relates to the release of police videos in general,” Gardena Police Chief Ed Medrano said in a statement. “Imagine the implications of criminals seeing and hearing everything victims and witnesses tell police officers, or victims being subjected to having their interactions with police broadcast on the news or posted on the Internet. … We worry about the implications of this decision and its impact on victims and average citizens who are recorded by the police.”

Diaz Zeferino’s family and attorney are expected to speak at 11 a.m. in front of the federal courthouse in downtown Los Angeles.

https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/2073999-13-la-use-of-force-13-0391.html