New Video of Southern California Police Shooting an Unarmed Man Raises Important Questions

July 15th 2015

Kyle Jaeger

A judge recently ordered the Gardena, California, police department to release footage of a police-involved shooting that killed a Latino man on June 2, 2013. The case has also triggered a federal review, according to BuzzFeed News. This could lead to a formal investigation by the U.S. Attorney's office in Los Angeles.

Use-of-force experts have been unsure as to whether or not the shooting was justified, but police admit that they shot the man, Ricardo Diaz Zeferino, after mistakenly identifying Diaz Zeferino's friends as suspects in a robbery. Those friends were, in fact, helping the man who had called the police to report a stolen bike. While confronting the police about this mistake, Diaz Zeferino was shot and killed.

Before the shooting, "[t]he patrol car video showed Diaz Zeferino dropping his hands and reaching to his right waistband or rear right pocket and making a tossing motion, dropping an object to the ground," the district attorney's memo said, according to the Los Angeles Times. He raised his hands, then repeated the move and removed something from his left rear pocket." Soon after, shots rang out, and Diaz Zeferino was fatally wounded.

Deputy District Attorney Rosa Alarcon reviewed the case, including video evidence gathered from the dashcam and determined that "the officers could not see Diaz Zeferino's right hand as he dropped it toward his waistband and 'believed he was going to reach for a weapon.'"

Additionally, a mistake may have heightened the tension. According to the Times, "[a] police dispatcher mistakenly told officers that the crime was a robbery, which usually involves a theft using weapons or force, and officers headed to the area in search of two suspects." As a result, the officers were under the impression that they were dealing with armed suspects.

“The videos show cold-blooded shooting of clearly unarmed men,” a lawyer for Diaz Zeferino's family told the Times. Diaz Zeferino's family filed a federal lawsuit against Gardena. The case was settled in March, and the city of Gardena paid out $4.7 million.

Despite a degree of uncertainty surrounding the incident, however, there are clearly strong parallels between this and similar cases involving the death of unarmed men of color—Eric Garner, Michael Brown, and Walter Scott to name a few—by police fire.

At the annual NAACP convention in Philadelphia on Tuesday, President Obama acknowledged that video recordings were "partly" responsible for the rise in public interest in criminal justice reform. At the very least, what this graphic video shows is that it's more important than ever to hold police accountable by keeping the camera rolling.