After months of legal battles with the city of Gardena fighting to keep the footage private, a California judge ruled Tuesday to release the video of this 2013 shooting to the public. The video clearly shows Gardena police officers opening fire on unarmed, non-combative suspects, killing one and injuring another. City officials have maintained that the footage does not tell the “whole story” of what happened that evening and, that while it “looks bad,” the dash cam did not truly capture that “perspective” of the responding officers.
A federal judge viewed the incident far differently, awarding a $4.7 million settlement to the victims.
As if that isn’t bad enough, it turns out that the victims of this police shooting had not been involved in any criminal wrong-doing.
In the early morning hours of June 2, 2013, a 9-1-1 call was placed to report a stolen bicycle outside of the CVS pharmacy on Western Avenue. Dispatchers mistakenly told police that the event was a robbery, which would normally indicate the possibility of armed criminals.
Sgt. Christopher Cuff spotted two possible suspects traveling eastbound on Redondo Beach Boulevard, detained them, and ordered them to put their hands in the air. Unfortunately, these two men were not bicycle thieves and they certainly were not armed robbers. They were friends of the bicycle theft victim searching the area for their friend’s stolen bike.
When Ricardo Diaz Zeferino, the brother of the man whose bike had been stolen, saw what was happening, he approached the scene, attempting to alert police to his friends’ innocence. An additional two patrol cars arrived and officers emerged with guns drawn.
Police memos claim that Diaz Zeferino appeared to be reaching into his waistband, presumably for a weapon, however the newly-released footage seems to indicate that he had simply removed his hat and lowered his hands. Police opened fire, killing Diaz Zeferino, while at the same time inadvertently striking one of the other men.
Eutiquio Acevedo Mendez survived this tragic encounter, but was left with bullet fragments near his spine. The third man was unharmed in the incident.
Since January 1, more than six hundred people have been killed in the U.S. by officers using deadly force.
An estimated 1105 were killed in 2014. That’s an average of three people killed daily by police, or a death every eight hours– an embarrassing statistic that dwarfs those of other developed nations:
In Canada, a nation with a population seventy-eight percent smaller that the U.S., there were only fourteen deaths resulting from the use of force by law enforcement in 2014.
In the United Kingdom, only one person died at the hands of police in 2014 and ZERO in 2013.
In Germany, no one has been slain by a police officer since 2012.
In China, a nation with over a billion people and a population more than four times the size of the U.S., only twelve people were killed in 2014.
Something is terribly, terribly wrong with this picture, folks. I know that law enforcement officers, day in and day out, face the kind of violent realities on the streets of America that the majority of us will never encounter. I know that many, if not most, of these shootings involve brave, honorable police who are doing nothing more than what is needed to ensure that they make it home safely to their families after a hard day at a very difficult and dangerous job.
But with those kinds of numbers, with that kind of sheer volume of violent interaction between police and the public, there are bound to be bad apples in the bunch. And when you stop to consider the pervasive racial animus that remains rooted in much of law enforcement, the tragic deaths of folks like Eric Garner and Ricardo Diaz Zeferino offer us painful reminders of the need for greater oversight over police behavior and for wide-spread deployment of non-lethal tactics in law enforcement.
Featured image via Counter Current News