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California Judge Orders Release Of Video Showing Gardena Police Shooting

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

There's another video of a police-involved shooting in the news. It comes from Southern California and the small city of Gardena near Los Angeles.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED POLICE OFFICER #1: Put your hands up.

UNIDENTIFIED POLICE OFFICER #2: Put your hands up.

POLICE OFFICER #1: I said hands up.

CORNISH: The footage shows officers with guns drawn, approaching three men with bicycles stopped on the side of the road. They had their hands up. When one removes his hat and drops his hands, the police shoot. Two of the men fall to the ground. One was wounded. The other was killed. Now, this incident took place in 2013, but the footage, shot by cameras mounted in police cars, was just released yesterday. That was after a federal judge said the city was not justified in keeping it sealed. Frank Stoltze of member station KPCC is covering the story, and he's with us now from Los Angeles. And Frank, let's start with a little more information about what happened in that video clip. Give us some context.

FRANK STOLTZE, BYLINE: Yeah. What led up to this was 34-year-old Ricardo Diaz Zeferino was working late. He works at a restaurant, and he was out with friends. And after they had left a bar, one of his friend's bike was stolen. And police stopped these two folks - his friends - who also had bikes, suspecting they were the culprits. They were not the folks who had stolen the bike, and Diaz Zeferino, according to his friends, stepped up to kind of explain that to the police officers as they had their guns drawn. And he raises his hands a couple of times and drops them next to his waist. And on the third time, for some unknown reason, he sort of took his hat off. And, you know, one hand kind of becomes hidden and the officers opened fire. They killed him there and wounded one of his friends.

CORNISH: We mentioned that the city of Gardena did not want to release this video. What prompted did the federal judge to intervene?

STOLTZE: Well, the federal judge was responding to a request from news organizations that said under the First Amendment, they had a right to see this video. The city had argued, no, they had no obligation to release it and also raised some privacy concerns for the officers and the victims. But U.S. District Judge Stephen Wilson sided with news organizations and said there was no compelling reason to keep the videos secret.

CORNISH: And a multimillion dollar settlement between the city and the family of Ricardo Diaz Zeferino - that played a part too, correct?

STOLTZE: Yeah. Interestingly, the judge said because the city paid out so much money - $4.7 million - taxpayer dollars - the public had a right to know what happened and to see the video.

CORNISH: What's been the reaction to the video so far?

STOLTZE: One use of force expert I talked to who is often slow to condemn shootings, John Jay's professor Peter Moskos, a former cop, said the shooting was a bad one, that Diaz Zeferino clearly did not present a threat to the officers. Police watchdogs also condemned the video and said it points to the need for a more independent investigation of these police shootings not by police themselves and not by local prosecutors who have to maintain a relationship with local police.

CORNISH: Meanwhile, what's happened with the officers involved and the Gardena Police Department?

STOLTZE: The three officers, according to Diaz Zeferino's family attorney, were never disciplined and remain on duty. All along, the police chief said that, you know, while it was tragic shooting, that the officers acted because they felt there was a threat. They couldn't see his hand for a moment. He said he did order more training, and he said Gardena police will join dozens of other police around the country and equip officers with body-worn cameras. But he said he will maintain his position that video from those cameras should not be made public.

CORNISH: That is Frank Stoltze of member station KPCC. Frank, thanks so much.

STOLTZE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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