Release of Police Shooting Video Considered by Appeals Court

A federal appeals panel in Pasadena has heard argument on whether special procedures should be placed on the future public release of police video, such as car and body camera recordings, in order to give police agencies a second chance to try to stop the material from becoming public.

“Body worn cameras are out there,” attorney Scott Davenport told the panel of three judges Monday. “I think we’re going to be seeing more of these cases not less.”

The hearing stemmed from the publication of police car video by the Los Angeles Times and other media organizations on July 14, 2015 that showed Gardena Police shooting and killing an unarmed man two years earlier.

The video was unsealed by a federal judge in L.A. over the objections of the City of Gardena.

Copies of the video were made in the court clerk’s office before a stay of that’s judge’s order could be (and later was) issued by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

The City of Gardena argued the release of the video might lead to riots, property damage, or deaths because the content could inflame the public.

Attorney Kelli Sager, who represents several media outlets in the appeal, argued any sort of new privilege for police -- or restrictions on the release of the contents of a public file -- would reverse the court’s longstanding presumption of openness.

“It is not up to this court to add new rules,” she said. “It is not up to this court to legislate, or to issue advisory opinions.”

During the hearing the judges also questioned whether the court should consider the effect of the public viewing graphic of violent police incidents, and whether the case had any legal merit, considering it was unlikely the City of Gardena would face the exact same legal situation for a second time. 

The video was recorded by two cameras mounted in police cars and showed Gardena Police officers firing their handguns at Ricardo Diaz Zeferino after he dropped his hands from his head toward his waistband during a pedestrian stop at the side of a road.

The L.A. County District Attorney’s Office decided the shooting was legally justified.

An opinion from the Appeals court was expected in the next few months.

-- Eric Leonard (@LeonardFiles)

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