Police dash-cam footage released Tuesday shows two officers in Gardena, California, shooting and killing an unarmed Latino man after he removed his hat and waved his arm.
The video shows three men under a streetlight on the night of June 12, 2013, as two police officers approach them with guns drawn.
Officers can be heard yelling, "Get your hands up!" as the men raise their hands into the air.
One of the men in a dark-colored shirt, Ricardo Diaz Zeferino, appears to lower and raise his hands as officers continue to shout orders. In one instance, the 35-year-old can be seen taking off his cap and lowering his hands as both officers open fire. He and another man then fall to the ground.
Diaz Zeferino, who was struck by multiple bullets, died in the shooting. The other man, Eutiquio Acevedo Mendez, was seriously wounded, but survived.
Warning: Video contains graphic footage.
In May, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office, which reviewed the shooting, concluded that the three officers, who according to investigators believed one of the men had been reaching for a weapon, "acted in lawful self-defense and defense of others."
The district attorney's report, which was forwarded to the Gardena Police Department, identified the three officers who fired that night as Christopher Mendez, Christopher Sanderson, and Matthew Fong Toda.
Gardena officials, however, settled a civil lawsuit over the deadly shooting for $4.7 million, and has been fighting a legal battle to keep the video recording sealed after the Los Angeles Times, the Associated Press, and Bloomberg filed a lawsuit to release the footage.
In court documents, attorneys representing the city of Gardena argued they had reached the multimillion-dollar settlement with the understanding that the video would remain under seal.
But on Tuesday, federal Judge Stephen V. Wilson ordered the video unsealed. Hours later, though, attorneys for the city and police department filed an appeal and a federal appellate judge issued an emergency stay, in effect blocking the immediate release of the video. But by then, the footage had already been obtained and published online by the Los Angeles Times.
The Times said in its reporting that the video was obtained from the district court after the Wilson's initial order.
In his order, Wilson argued that the fact that the city spent tax money to settle the case "strengthens the public's interest in seeing the videos."
Yet Gardena's effort to keep the video from becoming public continued Tuesday night in the wake of the emergency stay issued by 9th Circuit Court Judge Alex Kozinski.
"The criminal, civil, and administrative cases are closed and our position is that everybody who needed to see the videos has had the opportunity to do so," Gardena Police Chief Ed Medrano said in a written statement to BuzzFeed News.
He added that he and the police department "sympathize with the families and regret their loss."
Medrano noted that following the shooting, the department began new training for officers that included tactical use of cover techniques to "slow down fast-moving events."
In a statement online, the police chief said he had privacy concerns over releasing dash-cam or body-cam footage.
"Imagine the implications of criminals seeing and hearing everything victims and witnesses tell police officers, or victims being subjected to having their interactions with police broadcast on the news or posted on the internet," he said.
"We worry about the implications of this decision and it’s impact on victims and average citizens who are recorded by the police."
At the local city council meeting on Tuesday night, Gardena resident Terry Kennedy admonished city officials for funding the legal fight to have the tape suppressed.
“Why should you hide what a police officer does in the performance of his or her duties if it's captured on video?” asked Kennedy, who said he had lived in Gardena for 40 years.
“Who are you protecting? The police or the public?” he said.
Meanwhile, the original court order to release the video was applauded by civil rights and First Amendment advocates who criticized efforts by Gardena officials to keep the video secret.
"The public should have unfettered access to police video when an encounter with the public involves serious use of force or allegations of misconduct," Hector Villagra, executive director for the American Civil Liberties Union, said in a statement. "It's shameful that it took months of litigation and a federal judge to conclude that it is in the public's interest to see police video in this case."
Though police departments are increasingly being videotaped and adopting dash-cams and body cameras, including the Gardena Police Department, many have sought to keep the recordings confidential and away from public scrutiny.
"Although the video has been released, we are still moving forward with our appeal because we are concerned about the broader implications of this decision," Medrano said.
Salvador Hernandez is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Los Angeles.
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