Mimesis Law
23 November 2020

For $4.7 Million, Gardena’s Taxpayers Deserve To See The Shooting Video

July 6, 2015 (Mimesis Law) — America’s police have not had the best year.  They are constantly hounded by video showing the ‘work’ they are doing, which just so happens to be quite different from the ‘work’ they have told us they do.  A group of police associations across California are trying to change this unnerving trend.  They have decided to do something about the problem … by trying to make sure the public doesn’t see videos of police shootings.

On June 2, 2013 in Gardena, California, police shot Ricardo Diaz-Zeferino eight times and Eutiquio Acevedo Mendez once.  Diaz-Zeferino died.  Mendez has a bullet permanently lodged near his spine.

Just prior to the shooting, a report came in to the LAPD that a bike had been stolen from in front of a store.  Although the police dispatcher incorrectly radioed that a robbery had occurred (it was not), she mentioned nothing about a weapon nor a description of the suspect.

The responding officers spotted two men riding bikes in the area, and apparently owing to the utter peculiarity of people on bikes, the cops pulled these men over and approached them with guns drawn.  Neither of these men were the alleged thief, but rather friends of the bike owner, and were actually searching for the thief themselves.

Diaz-Zeferino, the brother of the bike’s owner, approached and attempted to notify the police that these men had not stolen the bike.  While non-police witnesses state that Diaz-Zeferino was holding his hands normally, the police shot him eight times claiming that his hands were moving in a threatening manner.  The city of Gardena settled the case for $4.7 million.

California law enforcement attorneys from across the state banded together to advance the idea that the public should not have access to the three dashcam videos that captured the Gardena shooting.  They claim that releasing the video to the public would violate the privacy of the officers involved in the shooting and could possibly interfere with “investigations.”

Let us use this as the jumping off point, because we are about to find ourselves hip-deep in grade-A, government BS.  First, on-duty police officers have no legitimate privacy interest.  Everything they do while in public while on duty is itself public.

And it seems more than slightly hypocritical to claim “privacy interest” for one of your own while you have no problem holding press conferences to announce the alleged crimes of a private citizen, prior to any due process or actual conviction.

Beyond absurd privacy objections, what about the argument that release of this video would have an adverse impact upon investigations?  This smacks of an almost unbearable lack of self-awareness.  Diaz-Zeferino was shot and killed while attempting to notify the police that they had the wrong guys.  He was actively assisting the investigation.

Instead of listening to his rather simple message, the cops treated him as a hindrance and potential threat.  Instead of treating the public like petulant children who deserve to be grounded (or shot), perhaps they could try listening to people.  It might go a long way towards building a little public trust, not to mention saving a few bucks on spent rounds.

Forgetting for a moment that the most cursory investigation may have avoided this tragedy, how exactly would releasing the video in this case would hurt “investigations?”

Most people would assume that the government would not pay out almost $5 million unless the officers had really screwed up.  Those people would be wrong, as per the LA County DA:

Given the information that they had before them, including Diaz’s actions, as well as the actions of Acevedo and Garcia, and the rapidly evolving, threatening situation that confronted Sergeant Cuff, and Officers Mendez, Sanderson and Toda, we conclude that the officers acted in lawful self-defense and defense of each other.  We are therefore closing our file and will take no further action in this matter.

This opinion was rendered by a completely impartial and independent party, the DA’s office that would have prosecuted Diaz-Zeferino and Mendez if the cops had not shot them.

The DA’s office made their shocking conclusion after watching the video, the same video that California’s law enforcement agencies are now trying so hard to keep from the public’s eyes.

This really begs the ultimate question: if the video is so clear in showing that the cops acted reasonably, why would they not want to release it?  Well, attorneys for the police have an answer for that as well.

Attorneys for the law enforcement organizations warned that disclosure of the videos could discourage use of cameras by police agencies and could undermine trust in the police.  And attorney for the state chiefs association noted that Gardena settled the civil rights case believing the videos wouldn’t become public.

Before we begin breaking down the offensive arguments made there, here is the cherry on top:

The defendants paid over $4 million to buy their peace.

To begin with the twisted logic that release of this video will discourage use of cameras by police agencies, it’s not up to them whether they use cameras.  It is up to the legislatures.  Obviously, they can turn the cameras off, but the closer we move to an expectation of video, the more difficult it will be for police to overcome the missing video presumption.

As to undermining trust in the police, the Gardena video either provides a defense for the police or shows them shooting two people unnecessarily.  As it stands, there are plenty of people out there who currently think that the police shot two guys who were unarmed and committing no crime.  If the video supports the officers’ actions, then its release would correct any misunderstanding.

The police position is much like that of a person who knows most, but not all, of the rules of poker.  Bluffing is a necessary tactic, but if your opponent lays down two pair, you can’t scoop up the pot on your mere say-so that you have three jacks.  And if you said you couldn’t show your cards because it would undermine the confidence in the game of poker, you would likely be thrown violently out of the room and blacklisted from any and all future card games.  But if you are a cop, a bunch of hack lawyers will try like hell to keep your secrets safe.

Speaking of lawyers, the last couple arguments are particularly insulting to attorneys, as well as anyone else who has the capacity for rational thought.  Police attorneys, presumably licensed to practice law, claimed that they settled the case civilly under the assumption that the video would not become public.  This is nonsense.  Any attorney worth his or her salt (or not merely attempting to mislead) knows that non-disclosure of evidence of this magnitude would only be accomplished by making a formal, non-disclosure agreement as part of the settlement. No competent lawyer would ever claim it was just “assumed.”

But the attorney for the police really knocks it out of the park when he offends everyone by claiming that the “defendants paid over $4 million to buy their peace.”  First, the defendants did not pay a damn dime.  The $4.7 million was paid by the taxpayers.  Second, the fact that the government sees the settlement as buying “peace” for the shooters instead of compensating those wrongfully shot drives a huge nail in the coffin of public confidence in the police.

While the arguments by California law enforcement are creative (and unrestrained by any semblance of logic), they are incredibly hollow.  Salinas, CA police released video of a shooting to show that the subject lunged at them with gardening shears before they fired.  As the public becomes aware that the police are only too happy to release video that shows they acted reasonably, what other conclusion can possibly be drawn when they go to great lengths to make sure the video is concealed?

When there is footage of a disputed incident, it is impossible not to side against the ones preventing release of the video.  It really boils down to one simple question that law enforcement has used against the public since laws were first enforced.  If you haven’t got anything to hide, then why don’t you want us to look?

Main image via Flickr/Alex Thompson

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