In 2013, the city of Gardena, Calif., paid out a $4.7 million settlement over the fatal police shooting of Diaz Zeferino, who was unarmed at the time and had been mistakenly suspected by police of stealing a bike when they were actually helping their friend look for his stolen bike. Since then, city officials have been fighting to keep video of the incident, caught by cameras on the two squad cars at the scene. This week, they argued in District Court that the city agreed to the settlement because it believed that would keep the video of the incident from the public.
Judge Stephen Wilson disagreed, as the Los Angeles Times reports:
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.
Despite the judge's clear-headed ruling in this instance, avoiding transparency and accountability are exactly why most jurisdictions agree to settlements over police brutality in the first place. Generally such settlements include no admission of guilt by the city—the cops involved usually keep their job, and the settlement money always comes from taxpayers, not from police officers, their unions, or their pension funds. Settlements effectively end discussions on police brutality because many people view them as victories even though they come without admissions of guilt and with the punitive bill being picked up by taxpayers, not cops.
On appeal, another circuit judge ruled the video should be sealed, but by that point it had been released to the Los Angeles Times, which posted it online. You can watch the whole thing below:
Gardena's police chief said the killing was "tragic for all involved" but that the police department instituted new training after that. He framed the issue of releasing the video as a matter of privacy for the man police killed and his friends. "Our police officers are entrusted with sensitive and extremely personal information and we often come in contact with people under tragic situations and at their worst," he said. "We worry about the implications of this decision and its impact on victims and average citizens who are recorded by the police." It's the same line cops use to concern troll about the implications of them being equipped with body cameras. Watched cops are polite cops, but someone has to watch the tape.