Daniel Diaz, a freelance videographer, had just spent a week covering the San Diego wildfires for Fox News. He was replaced by a Fox crew so he could fulfill a prior commitment for Court TV, the more mundane stakeout of the Van Nuys, Calif., courthouse during an Oct. 31 hearing in the Robert Blake trial.
Mundane, that is, until a metallic "pop, pop" drew his attention, then his camera to gunfire just feet away—the shooting outside the courthouse of an attorney in an unrelated case. That dramatic footage, as well as another angle captured by CNN, drew national attention.
Several other crews also were staked out at the court and got footage of the shooter's capture or the victim being attended to on the sidewalk, but the Court TV crew and CNN freelancer John Sandoval caught the shooting in progress. Court TV cameraman Brian Kelly, a freelancer as well, recorded the action from a setup some distance away, the footage including Diaz pointing out the shooter to a policeman, who then tackled the assailant.
Sandoval kept his camera on the victim, identified as attorney Gerry Curry, 53, while Diaz followed the alleged shooter, identified as William Strier.
Why go for the camera rather than the assailant or, as many others did, the nearest cover?
Diaz conceded that "a lot of brain cells are saying, 'Get the hell out of here.'" But, he added, "that's what I do for a living. I've been doing this for 30 years, and it wasn't the first time a shooting has taken place in front of me. It was just a reaction." Once, he says, he was at the scene of a police shooting in which the gunman drew a bead on him but had his weapon jam.
Why didn't Diaz try to stop the gunman? "He was firing pretty quickly. I didn't know what would have happened if I had charged him. Would he have stopped or just turned the gun on me?
"I was capturing the moment," Diaz continued. "If he pulled out another gun, went to reload or put another clip in, I would have jumped on the guy or hit him with the camera. There are times when you put the camera down and help a drowning victim or someone in a fire," which he has done, he says.
He also points out that, after the shooting, he followed the gunman closely enough so that he would have been able to "knock him down or hold the gun," if he had retrieved it from his pocket.
Court TV agreed to give a dub of its video to the police, but Court TV general counsel Doug Jacobs said that was no automatic call. After it had aired, "there was no reason not to turn it over" if it aided the investigation.
The 30-year-old Diaz was closer to the shooting than to his equipment when the action started, so he had to run and get his camera, then move toward the gunman, at some points as close as arm's length as he taped Strier's ambling exit and eventual capture.