The Los Angeles Times has obtained footage related to the death of Ricardo Diaz Zeferino at the hands of Gardena police officers in 2013.
Zeferino died after being shot eight times by three Gardena officers during the course of being stopped on suspicion of committing a robbery. Eutiquio Acevedo Mendez, standing near Zeferino, was shot once, but recovered from his wound.
The police mistakenly believed that the single bicycle present amongst the men had been stolen in a robbery, and that Zeferino was one of the “robbers.” In fact, it was Zeferino’s brother’s bike that had been stolen earlier, and the men were actually attempting to track it down.
When police arrived at the location related to them by dispatch, they ordered the men to put their hands up and to get on the ground. As the video made available attests, within only a brief moment of Zeferino and his companions raising their hands in submission, the police officers open fire. Multiple shots are discharged from several pistols; even as Zeferino crumples, the firing continues.
The LA Times, Associated Press and Bloomberg media had been requesting that the footage be made available to the public after a court settlement with the aggrieved parties was reached earlier. But this had been previously blocked by the city of Gardena government, until Judge Stephen Wilson recently ruled that the public had the right to see the footage.
The entire affair surrounding the video has underscored for the public that freedom of information and disclosure on the part of authorities is anything but clear-cut within the present framework of ordinances and statutes
According to the LA Times, the city of Gardena’s administration was in opposition to releasing the footage because, “[the video] would deter police from using such cameras and would endanger the safety of the officers at a time of heightened public criticism of police killings.”
According to Sergeant Cuff, who was present at the shooting, Zeferino’s behavior “vacillated between resistive and life-threatening,” during the brief encounter before the shooting began.
Cuff and others have maintained that Zeferino had his right hand hidden from view in his waistband, and looked as if he was attempting to draw a weapon. The officers claimed that they were fearful that they would be hurt by Zeferino and/or his companions.
The released video however, does not support such assertions. Zeferino can be seen to lower his hands at a couple of points, and to finally make a motion with one hand to remove the baseball cap from his head. The fusillade began soon after. No weapons were recovered from Zeferino’s body.
The aggrieved parties maintained that Zeferino had merely been trying to talk to the officers and explain how it was his brother’s bike that had been stolen, and that they had been searching for it. Sadly, as has happened in so many other cases, officers ‘in fear for their lives’ and with drawn weapons, were clearly not willing to peacefully engage with the unarmed citizens.