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Videos released in Gardena police shooting of unarmed men

The release this week of dash-cam videos showing Gardena police officers fatally shooting Ricardo Diaz Zeferino in June 2013 has brought national attention to the case.

Here are some of the major developments:

The city of Gardena reached a final settlement in February with the two men who were shot. Eutiquio Acevedo Mendez, who was wounded by gunfire but survived, received $1.7 million. Diaz Zeferino’s family received $2.8 million. Jose Amado, who was not shot, and the city settled earlier for $200,000. References to a $4.7-million settlement refer to those amounts.

A federal judge on Tuesday ordered the city to release the videos of the incident in response to a request from the Los Angeles Times, the Associated Press and Bloomberg. A 9th Circuit Court judge later intervened to keep the videos under seal, but not before The Times published the videos to its website. Two angles of the incident can be seen in the videos. (Warning: The graphic images might be disturbing to some viewers.)

This graphic, from a visual presentation by The Times’ Jon Schleuss, Raoul Ranoa and Lorena Elebee, helps show how the scene unfolded and what the cameras captured.

Read more about the competing interpretations of the shooting here.

The Times has also published the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office report on the incident. It concludes that the officers involved -- believing that Diaz Zeferino was reaching for a weapon when they opened fire -- “acted in lawful self-defense and defense of each other.” From the report: “Diaz [Zeferino] failed to comply with repeated orders to keep his hands up. Diaz [Zeferino] reached into his pockets and waistband area. He was shot and killed by officers at the scene.” Also: “It is reasonable to believe that the officers lost sight of Diaz’s right hand and believed he was going to reach for a weapon.”

A Times report by Richard Winton and Doug Smith quotes a University of South Carolina professor of criminology who studies police tactics and shootings: “It is hard to see what threat was posed to these officers,” Geoffrey Alpert said regarding the videos. “It doesn’t look good in terms of the training of these officers.”

The contrasting view:

Charles "Sid" Heal, a former L.A. County sheriff's commander who is president of the California Assn. of Tactical Officers, said the officers had a reasonable fear that the man raising and lowering his hands was armed as they responded to what turned out to be an erroneous radio dispatch of a robbery. The officers said they could not see the man's right hand when they opened fire and feared he was reaching for a weapon.

Heal credits the matter-of-fact quality of the video for illuminating the little-understood reality of police work.

"The public has developed an unrealistic frame of reference of police work, almost certainly by watching scripted television shows and even reality shows that omit the blood," he said. "This sheltered view of reality has created a false perception that makes everyone an expert in police work without a realistic understanding of the instant changes and deadly consequences for not 'reading' a situation correctly."

Times reporting on this case:

Video of Gardena shooting is a rare view into police tactics under stress

How much is a life worth? The calculations behind Gardena’s $4.7-million settlement

Survivor of Gardena police shooting and brother of man who was killed call for federal investigation

Infographic: Competing interpretations of the 27 seconds before the gunfire

Full coverage: Gardena police shooting of unarmed men

-- Matt Ballinger

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