How Gardena Tried To Buy Off An Execution
July 16, 2015 (Mimesis Law) — When the police are involved in a shooting, especially one that kills someone, there are a number of investigations that occur. There is always an administrative investigation by the employing department. There is almost always a criminal investigation to some degree.
The district attorney investigates, and perhaps the grand jury as well, because we, as citizens, want to be sure that police officers do not violate the high degree of trust that we place in their hands. So we need to make sure that the investigations are thorough and transparent. The public needs to see the material of the investigation so that we can make sure that important matters are handled properly.
On June 2, 2013, a bicycle was stolen in Gardena, California. Instead of being put out as stolen property, it was put out as a robbery, and two Hispanic males were seen leaving the area on bicycles. Two Hispanics did leave the area, but they were friends of the theft victim, looking for his bike.
In any event, police officers saw the two, and believing that they could be suspects in a violent felony, the robbery that they were responding to, conducted a felony stop with their guns drawn. Then, according to the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office, one of the individuals, Ricardo Diaz-Zeferino,
[S]howed a complete disregard for [Gardena Police Sgt.] Cuff’s authority and a lack of fear.
The DA went on to state that the officers were in “reasonable fear for their lives” and that the:
[O]fficers 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.
Good. Everything’s fine, the police did what they had to do, and the DA’s Office investigated it, cleared the police, and we can rest easy that the police did not step out of line. Diaz was dead and one of the others, Eutiquio Acevedo, was wounded, but the police did the right thing.
But wait! There’s more!
The city of Gardena settled a lawsuit about the shooting to the tune of $4.7 million, or about $78 for every resident of the city (just under $300 for a family of four).
Uh, Mr. City Attorney, sir? Why is the city paying the family of the dead guy (Diaz) and the wounded guy (Acevedo) almost five million dollars if the police did what they were supposed to do? The DA said that the video cleared the officers, and the police department did not discipline them—can we see the video? What do you mean “no” we can’t see it? It’s a public record!
The Gardena Chief of Police, Ed Medrano, said that:
[T]he criminal, civil and administrative cases are closed and our position is that everybody who needed to see the videos has had the opportunity to do so.
Everybody? Really? The public doesn’t have a right to know? We should trust you to determine that for us? If the officers did such a good job, why did the city settle for almost $5 million? Why shouldn’t it be released?
[W]e have serious privacy concerns as it relates to the release of police videos in general.
Chief, they are public employees. What they do in public, especially when it results in a life being lost, is of concern to the public. The officers don’t get to have “privacy” concerns in this situation. There is no reasonable expectation of privacy in public. None.
So the media sued and a U.S. District Judge ordered that the video be released. So we all got to watch it. I watched it as a police officer with over 20 years of experience.
My first thought was “Oh S***! They just executed that guy in cold blood!” It didn’t get any better when I watched it again, and again, and again, trying to see a way to justify the shooting. I couldn’t do it without compromising my integrity.
No wonder the city did not want to release the video. It doesn’t match what the reports said, even though the officers were able to review the video before they wrote their reports. By the way Chief, it is not a privacy concern to hide an inference that the officers were or could have been less than truthful.
The video also does not match what the DA’s report said. And the DA’s Office is the one that we are supposed to trust to get it right, to investigate the police and to prosecute those who violate the law and the public trust. It was just less than a month ago that Marc Debbaudt, of the Los Angeles Association of Deputy District Attorneys, told us that we didn’t need outside investigators to look at officer involved shootings.
It’s time to have outside investigators handle all officer involved shootings. It’s time for us to use special prosecutors for these cases. It’s time to require that all of the evidence is released to the public after the case is over. It’s time to tell Debbaudt or Medrano that “no, they are not the ones who get to decide what the public will support or not.
It’s time to hold police accountable for when they make mistakes.