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After Legal Fight, Gardena, Calif., Police Release Shooting Video

After a legal battle between a California police department and several news organizations, a federal judge ordered the public release of a video that shows Gardena, Calif., Police fatally shooting an unarmed man.

The video shows three men being apprehended by police, who mistakenly thought they had stolen a bicycle. It shows Ricardo Diaz Zeferino put his hands up and down, before being fatally shot by police.

The video is embedded below, but, beware, it is graphic:

The video and case add to a national conversation about police use of force. But this case, has an added dimension.

As The Los Angeles Times reports the police department had previously come to a $4.7 million settlement over the shooting. The city argued that it came to that settlement in the belief that the videos would remain under seal.

U.S. District Judge Stephen V. Wilson rejected that argument.

The paper explains:

"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,' Wilson wrote. 'Moreover, while the videos are potentially upsetting and disturbing because of the events they depict, they are not overly gory or graphic in a way that would make them a vehicle for improper purposes.'

"The judge's decision was a response to a request from the Los Angeles Times, the Associated Press and Bloomberg, which challenged a blanket protective order that had prevented the release of the videos and other evidence in the court case.

"Wilson's decision comes as law enforcement agencies nationwide increasingly have embraced the use of cameras worn by officers and placed in patrol cars to record police interactions with civilians. But few agencies have made their videos public, spurring a debate over the need to balance the privacy of those captured on the recordings and transparency in policing."

USA Today reports that currently many law enforcement agencies are withholding these kinds of videos. This ruling may mark a change. USA Today reports:

"Michael Overing, a lawyer and journalism professor at the University of Southern California, told AP that in addition to being cited in future court filings the ruling could help provide guidance as lawmakers grapple with those issues.

"'Right now, video is being suppressed,' Overing said. 'This is going to help open the floodgates so the public can see it ... and see if actions are justified.'

"There was a hitch, however. After the Times published the videos online, Judge Alex Kozinski ordered 'the police car camera video footage shall remain under seal pending further order of this court.'"

It's unclear what will happen now with the higher-court ruling.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.