Originally published on July 16, 2015, at NationofChange.org
After remaining sealed for over two years, the videos of police officers shooting two unarmed innocent men were released to the public by a U.S. district judge on Tuesday. Although several law enforcement organizations fought to keep the footage suppressed, U.S. District Judge Stephen Wilson decided to release the videos in favor of the public’s interest. After watching the videos, the families of the victims have called on the Department of Justice to investigate the Gardena Police Department.
At 2:30 a.m. on June 2, 2013, Sgt. Christopher Cuff responded to a 911 call regarding a possible robbery. Although the caller had simply reported a stolen bicycle, the dispatcher misinterpreted the theft report as a robbery with unknown weapons involved. Observing two men riding in front of a Carrows restaurant, Sgt. Cuff mistook them as thieves and ordered them to stop.
After encountering the police sergeant, Eutiquio Acevedo Mendez and Garcia Jose Amado put their hands in the air while attempting to explain to the officer that they were helping their friend look for his stolen bike. Although Sgt. Cuff had been wearing his audio recorder at the time, he did not turn it on because he later claimed that activating the device would have distracted him.
In an effort to clear the confusion, Ricardo 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 according to the recently released dash cam footage from two patrol cars, Diaz-Zeferino appears confused as he raises and lowers his arms while standing between Amado and Mendez. As his friends remain motionless with their hands raised, Diaz-Zeferino removes his baseball cap a moment before officers Christopher Mendez, Christopher Sanderson, and Matthew Toda open fire.
According to the 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 suppressed the release of the dash cam videos that recorded the incident. On June 8, the Associated Press, Bloomberg, and the Los Angeles Times filed a motion arguing that the suppression of these videos was a violation of the public’s right to information.
On Tuesday, Judge Wilson decided the public had a right to view the footage due to the fact that the city paid to settle the lawsuit filed by the victims’ families. In his 13-page decision, Judge Wilson wrote that the “defendants’ argument backfires here — the fact that they spent the city’s money, presumably derived from taxes, only strengthens the public’s interest in seeing the videos.”
After viewing the footage of the shooting, the families of Diaz-Zeferino and Mendez have called for the Justice Department to investigate the Gardena Police Department for possible civil rights violations.
“Nothing is sufficient, not even the money. A life is more important than the money,” said Augustin Reynoso, Diaz-Zeferino’s brother. “I want the Gardena Police Department to be investigated more deeply. That’s why I’m here, for justice.”