Originally published on June 30, 2015, at NationofChange.org
Several law enforcement organizations filed court documents last week seeking to suppress videos that recorded officers killing an unarmed innocent man and shooting his friend in the back. Attorneys for the police believe the officers should not be held accountable for their mistake and are fighting to bar the release of the videos. Although the district attorney claims that the victim appeared to be reaching for a weapon, multiple witnesses and an attorney for the victims’ families, who watched the videos, contradict the official narrative.
After his shift at a local restaurant ended on the evening of June 1, 2013, Ricardo Diaz-Zeferino joined his friends and his brother at Mis Amigos Bar in Gardena, California. Sometime after midnight, Diaz-Zeferino’s brother, Augustin de Jesus Reynoso, walked across the street with his bicycle to buy a lottery ticket at a CVS store. As he exited the CVS, Reynoso realized that his bike had been stolen.
A CVS employee called 911 reporting that Reynoso’s bicycle had been stolen. Although the caller told the dispatcher that he didn’t think the thief was armed, the 911 dispatcher did not relate this information to the officers responding to the theft. According to Gardena police Lt. Steve Prendergast, the theft report was misinterpreted as a robbery with unknown weapons involved.
Responding to the 911 call, Sgt. Christopher Cuff observed two men riding bicycles in front of a Carrows restaurant and ordered them to stop. Mistaking them for thieves, Sgt. Cuff ordered them to put their hands in the air. Unbeknownst to the police sergeant, Eutiquio Acevedo Mendez and Garcia Jose Amado were Reynoso’s friends who were helping him look for his stolen bike.
In an effort to clear the confusion, Diaz-Zeferino ran towards the scene to inform the officer that his friends were helping him look for his brother’s stolen bicycle. Instead of listening to Diaz-Zeferino, Sgt. Cuff ordered him to stop and place his hands in the air.
According to a memo from the district attorney’s office, Diaz-Zeferino raised his hands and pounded on his chest while explaining to the officers that they were detaining the wrong people. As two more patrol cars arrived in front of the Carrows restaurant, three officers exited their vehicles with guns drawn. According to the district attorney’s memo, dash cam videos from the patrol cars show Diaz-Zeferino lowering his hands and reaching for something in his pocket when the three officers opened fire killing him and shooting Mendez in the back.
But witnesses inside the restaurant, including the Carrows manager, assert that Diaz-Zeferino’s hands were nowhere near his waistline or pockets.
“The guy they killed had his hands up. I know that,” the manager recalled. “You could see his arms high up in the air.”
After watching the dash cam videos of the shooting, an attorney for the families of Diaz-Zeferino and Mendez said the footage clearly shows Diaz-Zeferino’s hands were empty and in front of his body when the officers opened fire. Both Mendez and Amado also confirmed that Diaz-Zeferino was not reaching for his pockets when the three officers gunned him down in front of the open restaurant.
According to the Los Angeles County Department of Coroner autopsy report, Diaz-Zeferino was shot eight times. Bullets struck him in the back, arm, hip, and knee. Mendez was also shot in the back leaving bullet fragments near his spine. Although Mendez survived, Diaz-Zeferino was pronounced dead at 2:45 a.m.
After filing a civil rights lawsuit in 2013, the families of Diaz-Zeferino and Mendez received a $4.7 million settlement from the city. But the police department continues to suppress the release of the dash cam videos that recorded the incident. Attorneys for the Los Angeles County Police Chief’s Assn., California Police Chiefs’ Assn., California State Sheriffs’ Assn., and California Peace Officers’ Assn. believe that the $4.7 million settlement purchased their right to keep the footage of the shooting sealed.
“The defendants paid over $4 million to buy their peace,” the attorneys for the law enforcement organizations declared in a statement.
On June 8, the Associated Press, Bloomberg, and the Los Angeles Times filed a motion arguing that the suppression of these videos is a violation of the public’s right to information. Last week, the Los Angeles County Police Chief’s Assn., California Police Chiefs’ Assn., California State Sheriffs’ Assn., and California Peace Officers’ Assn. filed court documents to keep the footage suppressed from the public because releasing the videos would breach a “law enforcement privilege.”
The three officers who shot Diaz-Zeferino and Mendez were immediately placed on paid administrative leave, but have returned to full duty. The Gardena Police Department refuses to release their names.