Video Police Didn’t Want You to See Finally Released: Unarmed Man Shot and Killed by Officers

On the night of June 2, 2013, police in Gardena, California, responded to a call about a bicycle stolen from outside a CVS drugstore.

A police dispatcher mistakenly told officers the crime was a robbery.

More information about the case was released today, and it is disturbing.

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A sergeant responding to the call saw two men riding bicycles near the store. The men were friends of the man whose bike had been stolen and were helping him search for his bike. Mistaking them for the thieves, the sergeant stopped the men, according to a memo written by a prosecutor from the L.A. County district attorney’s office, who reviewed the case.

Ricardo Diaz-Zeferino, whose brother owned the stolen bicycle, ran up to join the other two men as police detained them.

Moments later, gunfire erupted.

Diaz-Zeferino was dead, and his friend, Eutiquio Acevedo Mendez, was wounded.

For over two years, Gardena officials refused to release the dashcam videos, saying they could spark a “rush to judgment” against the officers. They also argued that the case was settled with the understanding that the videos would not be made public.

Yesterday, US District judge Stephen V. Wilson ordered the release of the videos, saying the public had an interest in seeing the recordings after the city settled a lawsuit over the shooting for $4.7 million.


Witnesses said that Diaz-Zeferino was trying to explain that they were not the thieves and that they were actually looking for the bike. He took a few small steps forward, but still appears distant and not threatening.

Mendez and the third man, Jose Garcia, remained motionless, but Diaz-Zeferino appeared to be confused by the officers’ instructions. He dropped and raised his arms repeatedly, and showed the officers his hands.

A laser dot from an officers’ pistol can be seen on his shirt. After Diaz-Zeferino removed a baseball cap from his head, officers standing to the side of the men fired shots. Diaz-Zeferino was struck eight times.

Sgt. Christopher Cuff was the first officer to respond to the call. He did not fire his weapon, and said when he exited his car upon arrival to the scene, he did not immediately draw his weapon.

Cuff saw Mendez and Garcia riding bikes in the area and ordered them to stop. He said moments later, Diaz-Zeferino jogged over to the three men. When questioned by attorneys, Cuff admitted he’d never seen a robbery suspect jog toward a police officer.

Cuff also admitted his voice recorder was not on.

Three other officers, subordinate to Cuff, arrived on the scene, guns drawn. Cuff said in theory, he had authority over the other officers, but that he “didn’t have the opportunity” to give instructions.

In the deposition, Cuff also assessed each man’s relative threat level at the time of the shooting. Both men with Diaz-Zeferino, he said, were “cooperative” with officers.

Diaz-Zeferino, he said, “vacillated between resistive and life-threatening.”

But at no time did Cuff see a weapon or anything resembling a weapon on Diaz-Zeferino, he said.

Makes one wonder what Cuff meant by “life-threatening,” doesn’t it?

The lawyer who sued the city on behalf of the deceased says the videos show that “Diaz-Zeferino’s right hand was clearly empty and in front of his body when the shots were fired.”

He also told the LA Times the videos demonstrate “officers were giving confusing orders” and that one of the injured men “was shot despite keeping his hands above his head.”

In his decision to order release of the videos, Wilson said, “Defendants cannot assert a valid compelling interest in sealing the videos to cover up any wrongdoing on their part or to shield themselves from embarrassment.”

Gardena immediately filed a notice with the 9th US circuit court of appeals, seeking to block the video’s release. Several hours later, Judge Alex Kozinski issued the order that “the police car camera video footage shall remain under seal pending further order of this court.”

By then, the LA Times had already published the video.


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