Government / Politics

COMMENTARY: Because they don’t want you to know

Why police and city politicians vigorously fight against releasing videos funded by our tax dollars

Two years after a Gardena City, Calif. police officer shot two unarmed Latino men and following the killing of another, Federal District Court Judge Stephen V. Wilson ordered release of the police patrol car dash-cam video capturing the fatal encounter. The release came after a long-drawn-out legal battle between the family of the deceased, local and national media requests and the City of Gardena and its police department. The question that is raised, after the protracted battle to release the video is: what purpose does the cast of surveillance cameras? And isn’t its main purpose to reassure the public of the correctness of police actions?

The Gardena police killing of another unarmed Latino occurred the night of June 2, 2013, after police responded to a call about a bicycle stolen from outside a CVS drugstore. A police dispatcher mistakenly told officers the crime was a robbery, which typically involves weapons or force.

Following the killing, the district attorney’s office declined to file charges against the officers involved. Deputy District attorney Rosa Alarcon wrote in a memo about the shooting that Diaz Zeferino ignored police commands and that toxicology tests after his death were positive for alcohol and methamphetamine. His right hand, she wrote, “was no longer visible from the officers’ angle when they opened fire and it was reasonable for them to believe he was reaching for a weapon.” Statements such as these are standard law enforcement jargon to justify criminal killings and not be held accountable, see LATimes- Federal Judge Orders Release of Videos.  

In its efforts to prevent the video from seeing-the-light-of-day, and be viewed by the family and the public, police denied the truth to surface. The questions, which beg to be asked, are the following: Can’t the police stand by their deadly actions? Why did the city and its police department fight so vigorously for its non-disclosure? (Even with the indefensible cover given by the L.A. district attorney’s office.) Or is it that they can’t defend their collusion and deceit and withstand a public scrutiny and judgment? More importantly, are they capable of withstanding the all-important believability and credibility tests?

When incidences such as these occur, which are way too common these days, the response from police and their apologist and cheerleaders, such as The National Alliance, American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, Council of Conservative Citizens, The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, etc., is that it’s just an “anomaly” or a “rotten” apple. Ironically, the state with the highest number of hate groups in the United States is California, this according to the Southern Poverty Law Center – Hate Groups.

Likewise, the official U.S. Commercial Bushel definition is 40 pounds of apples equals one bushel. With well over 931 and still counting police killings to date of mostly blacks, Latinos, Asians and Native Americans, plus others/unknown persons, more than an anomaly and a rotten apple exist in our 18,000 law enforcement departments across the country.

However, bushels of arrogant, above the law, trigger-happy, corrupt and dishonest cops, with a high school diploma and at most a University of Phoenix for-profit education, patrol our streets and supposedly understand, appreciate and guard the Bill of Rights to the U.S. Constitution. For an example of the type of police and political integrity we endure, we only have to look in our own local backyard, i.e. King City Police Officers Arrested in Corruption Scandal where the police chief and five of the city’s six police officers were indicted for embezzlement, corruption and obstruction of justice. Bell City California politicians were indicted for mishandling municipal funds and corruption, and most recently, City of Fresno police lieutenant charged with pimping his girlfriend Fresno Police Officer Accused of Pimping Girlfriend.

However, as in Hamilton County, Ohio, where the local prosecutor, Joseph T. Deters, indicted Cincinnati University police officer for a killing, I applaud the brave and honest prosecutors who fight off law enforcement and political pressures not prosecute, and shake-off the all to comfortable and complicit relationships. If anything, it is clear that a war exists against people of color by law enforcement and white supremacists groups – a historical fact all-to-well-known to these besieged communities. These old tired official police explanations and falsified police accounts and reports, are made to justify deep-seated fears, hatred and racism.

In ordering the release of the videos, Judge Wilson said, “… the public had an interest in seeing the recordings, …” Wilson also rejected unjustifiable efforts by the City of Gardena attorneys, who argued the city had paid the settlement money in the belief that the videos would remain under seal. Why is that so important? Doesn’t the-light of-day cleanse the wide corruption? 

Judge Wilson further wrote: “the fact that they spent the city's money, presumably derived from taxes, only strengthens the public's interest in seeing the videos… ” The judge’s decision was a response to the Diaz Zeferino family and the L.A. Times, Associated Press and Bloomberg news request for its release, which challenged a blanket protective order that had prevented the release of the videos and other evidence in the court case.

Wilson’s decision comes as law enforcement agencies nationwide increasingly have embraced the use of cameras worn by officers and placed in patrol cars to record police interactions with civilians. But few agencies have made their videos public, spurring a debate over the real purpose of the cameras, the role of privacy and civil liberties and policing transparency.

Gardena Police Chief Ed Medrano Statement release, lacking any sensitivity, describes the shooting as “tragic for all involved.”

Chief Medrano further stated: “Gardena police officers will soon be equipped with body cameras and that he continues to oppose publicly releasing recordings out of privacy concerns.” How convenient! “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.”

Gardena contended that releasing the video would deter police from using such cameras and would endanger the safety of its officers at a time of heightened public criticism of police killings.

Therefore, the same question of public access needs to be addressed and answered by City of Hollister politicians and the police chief.

What are the city of Hollister and its police department’s policy regarding surveillance/spy cameras? When and under what circumstances do family of deceased and the public has the right to access, view and judge official police action while at the same time providing residents the opportunity to pass judgment on the efficacy and value of such official expenditure?

The fact that public funds derived from both local and federal grants funds, presumably derived from taxes, as Judge Wilson argued, “ … only strengthens the public's interest in seeing the videos, …” – from street surveillance/spy cameras, dash cam, body cameras and drones.

Lack of transparency and credibility breed distrust … much needs to be realized before the public regains any modicum of faith in law enforcement.

Luis Burguillo

As a student of the media and journalism, I am interested in utilizing the medium in order to assure that the residents of the City of Hollister and San Benito County are alerted, informed and educated on the official actions of their elected officials who are sworn to preserve, protect and defend the US constitution and Bill of Rights. More importantly, their engagement in the political process will hold the leaders accountable for their actions/decisions and lead to an improved governance.