LOS ANGELES – The image on the dark, grainy home videotape is both sensational and disturbing: A sheriff's deputy shoots a man who appears to be unarmed and obeying an order to get up off the ground.
But experts say it remains unclear whether the video, filmed by a resident and broadcast on KTLA-TV this week, tells the entire story of what transpired in Chino Sunday after a 100 mph car chase. Videos, they say, often end up raising more questions than they answer.
"They're drenched with caveats," said Eugene O'Donnell, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and a former New York police officer and prosecutor.
"One thing we've learned about videos is there are often missing pieces before and after," O'Donnell said. "The quality of the video is often problematic and the sound doesn't pick up relevant issues and can actually distort things."
In the incident in Chino, about 40 miles east of Los Angeles, the video appears to show a deputy ordering 21-year-old Elio Carrion to his feet, then shooting him as he tries to stand. Carrion, an Air Force policeman who recently returned from Iraq, underwent surgery for wounds to his chest, ribs and leg and was listed in good condition Wednesday at the hospital.
Carrion was a passenger in a Corvette, which crashed following a brief chase that ended when the car crashed into a wall, authorities said.
Authorities said no weapons were found on Carrion or the driver, Luis Escobedo. Neither man has been charged.
Escobedo said he and Carrion were trying to cooperate with the deputy.
"We were trying to explain to him, we were not armed," he told reporters. "Elio had nothing to do with this. This is why I want to apologize to his family for what happened."
The deputy, whose name was not released, has been on the force for about 10 years, sheriff's spokeswoman Jodi Miller said. He was placed on paid administrative leave, a routine procedure in officer-involved shootings.
The FBI was investigating possible civil rights violations.
The impact of video in confrontation investigations emerged after the 1991 taped beating of black motorist Rodney King, which resulted in riots after four white Los Angeles police officers were acquitted of state charges.
Since then, videos have played a key role in the investigation of other incidents, but remain open to wide interpretation.
In Cincinnati, a 2003 video captured officers striking a 350-pound man with nightsticks. The man, Nathaniel Jones, died. A police watchdog agency concluded officers used excessive force, but a prosecutor determined they were lawfully defending themselves when Jones began swinging at them as they tried to handcuff him.
In New Orleans, two officers were fired and a third suspended following the videotaped beating of a retired teacher in the French Quarter following Hurricane Katrina. The officers' attorney said the video didn't tell the confrontation's whole story.
A video showed a police officer in Inglewood slamming the face of a handcuffed 16-year-old boy into a patrol car in 2002. A criminal charge against the officer, Jeremy Morse, was dismissed after two juries deadlocked.
Morse's attorney also said the video didn't show the whole story, claiming his client reacted forcefully after Jackson grabbed the officer's testicles during an arrest at a gas station.
"We have learned over the last 10 or 15 years that images captured on film show only a very small part of an event," said John Barnett, who defended Morse and one of the officers involved in the King beating.
San Bernardino County sheriff's officials caution that the video of the Chino shooting is grainy and the audio is at times unclear. They have asked the FBI to do a forensic analysis of the tape to determine what was said by whom and when, sheriff's spokeswoman Cindy Beavers said.
"The average person is going to say, 'Oh my God, the cops screwed up again. They stepped over the line, they're guilty of misconduct,"' said Earl Ofari Hutchinson, a Los Angeles author and political analyst.
"But we would really need to know more than just this videotape," he said.