Thursday, July 16, 2015

Not The Bicycle Thief - Ricardo Diaz-Zeferino's Family Calls For Federal Probe Into His 2013 Shooting

Ricardo Diaz-Zeferino's brother at a press conference Wednesday
"They need to see what happened.... We had our hands up. We didn't have any guns. They just shot, they killed my friend for no reason."

That's a quote from Eutiquio Acevedo Mendez, who still bears a 7-inch scar on his stomach from surgery to remove a hollow-point bullet that entered his back that left metal fragments near his spine back in 2013.

The bullet that struck him was one of eight shots fired at point blank range by three officers from the Gardena, California Police Department; Christopher Mendez, Christopher Sanderson and Matthew Toda.

As you've probably heard today, the eight shots struck and killed his friend Ricardo Diaz-Zeferino who was unarmed at the time and had committed no crime.

Eutiquio Acevedo Mendez had his hands over his head when he was shot, and he was unarmed too; nor had he, or another friend who was with them at the time, committed a crime - in fact they were searching for someone who had stolen Diaz-Zeferino's brother's bike.

The decision on Tuesday by federal Judge Stephen V. Wilson to order the Gardena, California Police Department to allow public access to the camera footage of the fatal shooting of the incident offers a brutal and sad reminder one of the most pressing domestic issues of our time.

One that traverses justice, civil rights, human rights, morality and legal ethics.

What did this latest victim do to cause the three Gardena police officers to "feel threatened" and start firing?

Personally I'm not sure after watching the video footage a few times, and as Richard Winton of the LA Times reported earlier today in an article on the tape's release, experts in police tactics and law enforcement are divided on the officer's decision to fire on Diaz-Zeferino.

Dash cam footage taken just before the shooting
As Winton's article states: “It is hard to see what threat was posed to these officers,” said Geoffrey Alpert, a University of South Carolina professor of criminology who studies police tactics and shootings. “It doesn’t look good in terms of the training of these officers. I can understand now why this department didn’t want the videos released.”

Mendez and another friend of Diaz-Zeferino were on their bikes riding along Redondo Beach Boulevard about 2:30am on June 2, 2013 searching for a bike that was stolen from Diaz-Zeferino's brother from in front of a CVS nearby.

A Gardena PD Sgt. saw the two men and stopped them, incorrectly believing they were the bicycle thieves. Ricardo Diaz-Zeferino saw his friends and ran over to try and explain to the officer that his friends were not the thieves who'd taken his brother's bike.

As the video shows, officers continued yelling commands at the three men, who were already subdued with their hands up (see photo above) when Diaz-Zeferino reaches up to remove his hat and makes a couple gestures; to me it looks like an exasperated half-shrug of frustration over the cops having stopped them when they were actually trying to help locate his brother's stolen bike.

The officers were yelling commands but language may have been an issue and according to more than one report the officers were yelling contradictory commands; one of them is yelling for them to keep their hands up and another can be heard telling them to get on the ground.

That's when the officers fired the eight shots, wounding Mendez and killing Diaz-Zeferino.

Click here to take a close look at the video and judge for yourself; it's not bloody or anything, though it is disturbing.

Does it seem like Diaz-Zeferino and his two friends (who had their hands up) were in any way threatening to the three police officers pointing loaded guns at them?

If you watch the video it doesn't take an expert in police tactics to understand why the Gardena Police Department and the city spent almost two years trying to block the release of the dash-cam footage of the shooting to the public; which now makes it seem even more like a cover-up.

The video's release has lit up social media and turned an incident that happened two summers ago into a mainstream media story and justifiably caused outrage around the world.

As TV station KABC reported earlier this evening, the family of Ricardo Diaz-Zeferino has already called for a federal civil rights probe into the circumstances surrounding the shooting.

As for the three officers, the charges were dismissed after the fatal shooting was ruled justified; even though the city agreed to pay the family of Diaz-Zeferino $4.7 million in compensation.

None of three officers were ever charged and they've been on duty ever since - which is an all too familiar outcome in fatal police shootings of innocent unarmed people in America.

There's no guarantee the three officers will face civil rights charges, but given the fact that Ricardo Diaz-Zeferino lost his life, the content of the video showing the circumstances of his death and the media attention it's attracted - it's possible.

In the meantime the count continues.

According to data tracked by "The Counted", the effort by The Guardian to account for every person killed by members of law enforcement in the United States this year, there were 547 known police killings as of the end of June - putting police on a pace to kill at least 1,100 people by the end of the year.

Given that "The Counted" puts the rate of people killed by American police at 3 per day - as of today July 15th, the total number could be as high as 592.

I look at that number and it seems like Eutiquio Acevedo Mendez's quote about his friend's death pretty much sums up what millions of people around the world feel about the outrageous number of fatal shootings in this country: "They just shot, they killed my friend for no reason."

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