On Monday, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals considered whether Federal Judge Stephen V. Wilson abused his authority by releasing dash cam footage of Gardena police officers fatally shooting an unarmed man, rather than holding off while the city of Gardena appealed Wilson’s decision to release the footage.
In June 2013, three Gardena police officers fatally shot Ricardo Diaz Zeferino eight times. The officers believed Diaz Zeferino was reaching for a weapon, although he was found to be unarmed.
The incident began after someone called the police to report that Zeferino’s brother’s bicycle had been stolen. Zeferino and two of his friends went out in search of the bike, but ran into Gardena police instead, who assumed that the three were the bike thieves. One of Zeferino’s friends, Eutiquio Acevedo Mendez, was badly injured. The other, Jose Amado, was unharmed.
In ordering the videos to be released, Judge Wilson was responding to a request from the Associated Press, the Los Angeles Times, and Bloomberg, which challenged a blanket protective order by the 9th Circuit Judge Alex Kozinski prohibiting the videos and other evidence in the court case from being released. The publications argued that the footage should be released because of a First Amendment right to access court records.
When he released the footage in July of 2015, Wilson said the public had a right to see video of a shooting that resulted in hefty payouts.
The city of Gardena settled with Amado for $200,000 back in mid-2014. Then, in February 2015, the city settled with Zeferino’s family for $2.8 million, and with Mendez for $1.7 million. In all, the city coughed up $4.7 million between the three payouts. Gardena fought to keep videos of the shooting under wraps, citing privacy and safety concerns.
The city of Gardena is asking the appeals court to rule that in future cases, a stay should automatically be granted so that a potential video release can be appealed.
Scott Davenport, an attorney representing Gardena said the issue was “bigger than this case” alone.
While a ruling by the 9th Circuit judges would not have an impact on the fate of the Zeferino shooting videos—because the videos were published in back in 2015—it could have an impact on how future cases are handled.
Judge Andrew Kleinfeld, a member of the 9th Circuit three-judge panel considering the case, pointed out that stays are automatically granted in other kinds of cases, and asked LA Times’ attorney Kelli Sager why releasing video that might lead to rioting would be in the public’s best interest.
Sager argued that the law leaned in favor of disclosing video evidence in a lawsuit that resulted in a multi-million-dollar settlement, that Gardena failed to seek a stay in 2015, and that the city’s argument for sealing the video was a feeble one. Sager also pointed out that no rioting occurred in the wake of the publishing of the videos, and that rioting following the release of a shooting video is a rare occurrence.
The Associated Press has more on the issue.