Tag Archive for police shooting

LA County DA rules Gardena police were justified to shoot and kill the unarmed brother of a bike theft victim

Finally, we know what really happened.

Or not.

In July of 2013, two men were shot by Gardena police responding to the theft of a bicycle.

Except they didn’t kill a dangerous bike thief and wound his partner in crime.

The man they mistakenly killed was the brother of the man whose bike was stolen. He was just trying to tell the officers that the men they had stopped weren’t vicious thieves, but were actually helping to look for the missing bike.

Unfortunately, the three officers didn’t seem to understand Ricardo Diaz Zeferino’s Spanish, even though customers at a nearby restaurant could clearly make out what he was saying. And he didn’t seem to understand the cops commands to stop.

Now the DA’s office has ruled that they acted within the law in shooting the unarmed man eight times — including twice in the back.

The same with what they say was the unintentional shooting of his similarly innocent friend, who was also shot in the back.

The DA’s decision was based on dash cam video, which apparently captured the whole thing. It reportedly showed Diaz Zeferino reaching into his pockets to toss unidentified items to the ground, then taking off his baseball cap, despite orders to stop. The officers opened fire when he started to raise his hands again.

The cops couldn’t see his right hand, according to the Deputy DA who reviewed the video, and believed he was going to reach for a weapon.

A weapon that didn’t exist.

Not that that inconvenient fact seems to matter to anyone.

Not surprisingly, the attorneys for the victims reached a different conclusion, arguing that the video showed the police gave confusing orders, and that Diaz Zeferino’s right hand was empty and in front of his body when they opened fire. And that the other victim, Acevedo Mendez, was shot despite keeping his hands over his head the whole time.

Unfortunately, we’ll never know which version is true, since the Gardena Police Department has refused to make the video public.

Although they did allow the cops to view the video before making their statements so they could get their stories straight.

On the other hand, whatever the video showed, it was enough to convince the city of Gardena to settle a civil rights lawsuit over the shooting for $4.7 million. Not that any amount of money will do Diaz Zeferino a lot of good.

According to the DA’s report, the toxicology report showed he had meth and alcohol in his system. Which is no more relevant to the case than whether he was wearing a bike helmet.

The three officers who opened fire are still on active patrol duty nearly two years after the shooting; the department’s internal review over the shooting was on hold until the civil case was resolved, which happened earlier this week.

The outcome of that review is something else we’ll never know about; any disciplinary action will be confidential under California law.

This is the second time this year the DA has refused to prosecute cops who killed someone in a bike-related case. And the second time that disciplinary action, if any, will be a deep, dark secret known only to the officers involved.

So if your bike is ever stolen in Gardena, maybe you’re better off just letting it go. Those cops could still be out there, ready to shoot at the drop of a hat.

Literally.

And whatever happens, don’t count on the LA County DA’s office to do a damn thing about it.

 

Actually, the Newport Beach Police Department gets it after all; Gardena may be another matter

No one gets it right all the time.

Myself included

But I have to respect anyone who can accept criticism. Especially when they actually do something about it. And particularly when the problem involves the often troublesome intersection of police and bikes.

That’s exactly what happened recently when I criticized the bicycling webpage of the Newport Beach Police Department.

As you may recall, I took them to task for offering bike safety advice that suggested cyclists should always ride to the right, while ignoring the many exceptions to CVC21202 that allow bike riders to take the lane for their own safety.

As well as disputing their recommendation to ride single file, a requirement which is contained nowhere in the California Vehicle Code.

My reasoning wasn’t just that they were wrong. It was that both bike riders and motorists might get the wrong idea from reading it, needlessly contributing to the conflicts on our streets.

The surprising part came a few days later when I received an email from bike riding NBPD Deputy Chief David McGill.

Needless to say, he wasn’t thrilled my criticisms. But instead of arguing with me, he wanted to reach out to me to work together in addressing the problems facing bicyclists in Newport Beach.

As he put it,

When Jay Johnson was sworn in as our Chief of Police in 2010, he made bicycle safety an important part of the Department’s mission.  As a result, in the past several months the NBPD has increased their efforts to work together with the community and the City’s Citizen’s Bicycle Safety Committee (recently reformed as the Bicycle Master Plan Oversight Committee) to do what we can to help improve bicycle safety for all people who visit, live and work in Newport Beach.  Together with our partners, we have accomplished much in the past few years, but there is always more work to do.

When I took a second look at what I’d written, I realized that I’d come off a little harsher than I had intended for what was, in balance, good advice for bike riders. So I toned down my criticism of their website, while responding to his email to explain my objections.

Then, to be honest, I forgot all about it, as a continuing parade of various issues and crises, both personal and bike-related, took precedence.

But they didn’t.

This week I got another email from McGill saying the department had considered my suggestions. And actually acted upon them.

But more importantly, they got it right this time.

My only suggestion was to add the phrase “when traveling below the speed of traffic” to their advice about “riding furthest to the right.” And when I checked back before writing this, I saw that change had already been made.

Of course, we didn’t win on every count.

While they continue to interpret the vehicle code as not allowing side-by-side riding in most situations, it also seems to be a lower priority for the department. And they’ve removed the instruction to ride single file from their website.

I can live with that.

And you can’t ask for much more than a police department that is willing to listen to — and better yet, act on — criticism from the bike riding public.

NBPD Chief Johnson, and those who work for him, have won my respect.

And my gratitude.

………

Gardena might be another story.

According to the official version, police responding to a report of a robbery and/or stolen bicycle attempted to stop two men they spotted riding bikes. That’s when a third man ran up to them, and — allegedly — reached into his waist band.

Thinking he was reaching for a gun, the officers shot multiple times, killing him and wounding one of the other men.

But if he really was armed, no one has bothered to mention it yet.

Now witness reports are coming out that the victim, Ricardo Diaz-Zeferino, was actually running with his hands in the air, rather than near his waistband. And he was trying to tell the officers that the two men were his friends, and weren’t involved in the theft.

In other words, he died because it was his bike that was stolen. And he was trying to help two friends who had nothing to do with the crime.

Now, don’t get me wrong.

I understand that cops have their lives on the line, and things can go horribly wrong in any contact with the public. And that they have to make split-second decisions to protect both their own safety and those they are sworn to protect.

It’s easy for us to sit back and judge their actions after the fact. A lot harder to make those split-second decisions in real time, in real world situations.

But it looks like an innocent man — one of the L.A.’s area’s many bike riding Los Invisibles — became all too visible at exactly the wrong time, in front of cops who apparently reacted to what they thought was happening, rather than was actually was.

And now a man is dead because of it.

All because he was the victim of a bike theft, and some cops in an area with a large Latino population who apparently didn’t understand Spanish.

………

On a related note, KPFK’s Michael Slate Show will interview Sandra Cotton, sister of Terry Laffitte, who was fatally shot by police who initially attempted to pull him over for riding without lights last month.

The broadcast will air today — Friday — at 10 am on KPFK 90.7, streaming live at www.kpfk.org.

………

Finally, just a few more quick notes.

Nearly forgotten in the dust-up over New York’s bike share program is the fact that L.A.’s Bike Nation bike share program was supposed to be up and running by now. Streetsblog’s Damien Newton explains why it isn’t and maybe never will be.

The new mayor of Compton is young, female and an actual urban planner.

Volvo designs a safety system that can recognize a bike rider and apply the brakes before a collision can occur; thanks to Jeff White for the link.

An Alexandria VA bike advocate effectively rebuts the myth of the scofflaw cyclist; link courtesy of Kent Peterson.

John Grotz forwards a link to a video currently making the rounds showing a New York bike rider repeatedly cut off, then threatened in a Hassidic neighborhood before another man comes to his rescue. He notes this is the same neighborhood that successfully lobbied to have new bike lanes removed a few years back.

A Victoria BC mountain biker is nearly decapitated when a wire is strung across a bike trail in an apparent sabotage attack.

And a Brazilian billionaire’s son gets community service, loss of his license for two years and a nearly half million dollar fine — chump change for his family — for running down a bike rider in his $1.3 million Mercedes SLR McLaren.

And yes, he’s planning to appeal his very generous slap on the wrist.

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