The LEO was eating with friends near a taco stand when he saw someone tagging a wall and called out for them to stop
By Richard Winton
Los Angeles Times
LOS ANGELES — The young off-duty officer was
eating with friends near a Lincoln Heights taco stand after midnight
Saturday when he saw someone tagging a wall.
He called out for the
person to stop, setting off a chain of events that left Los Angeles
Police Department officers mourning the death of one of their own while
simultaneously trying to find his killer.
According to law enforcement sources, a group of young men approached
Officer Juan Jose Diaz sometime after the tagging exchange and began
threatening the 24-year-old, his girlfriend and her two brothers. One of
the men lifted his shirt to reveal a handgun.
Diaz and his group
tried to hurry to their car and drive away to avoid a violent
confrontation, a source said. As they got into the vehicle, the gunman
opened fire, fatally wounding Diaz and injuring one of his girlfriend’s
A witness flagged down an LAPD motorcycle officer, who
found the two men with gunshot wounds about 1 a.m. at Avenue 26 and
Humboldt Street, police said.
Diaz was pronounced dead; his
girlfriend’s brother was taken to a hospital for treatment. With just
two years on the force, Diaz was most recently assigned to the
Professional Standards Bureau.
The gunman claimed allegiance to
the Avenues, a once-powerful gang that has lost its grip on the
neighborhood in the last decade, and said Diaz and his group were in its
territory, the law enforcement source said. Patrol cars swarmed the
scene after the shooting and blocked off streets as detectives launched
an investigation focusing on gang members and associates. No one has
been arrested in Saturday’s attack.
A van carrying Diaz’s body
drove in a procession from the crime scene to the coroner’s office about
a mile away on Mission Road, where it was met by an impromptu honor
guard of law enforcement officers lining the street. Officers saluted
the van, which was escorted by several LAPD patrol cars, as it drove by.
By Saturday afternoon, about a dozen of Diaz’s loved ones gathered
somberly for lunch on the lawn outside his home. They declined to speak
with a reporter.
Mayor Eric Garcetti said Diaz’s slaying is “a
shocking reminder of the dangers that LAPD officers face every moment
they wear the badge” and offered condolences to his family and friends.
are experiencing a loss that no one should have to suffer, under
circumstances that outrage us all,” Garcetti said in a statement. “My
promise is that we will hold them close, stand with them every step of
the way — and never tire until we find and prosecute the vicious
criminals responsible for this horrific tragedy.”
Michel Moore was out of the country on vacation when Diaz was killed,
but in a tweet asked “for our community’s support in finding his
Gov. Gavin Newsom also issued a statement, saying “as a state, we
must do more to stop these senseless acts that continue to take lives.
We owe it to 24-year-old Officer Diaz and all Californians.”
did not release any information about those involved in the officer’s
slaying. Investigators were talking to multiple witnesses and gathering
evidence from the scene, including video from neighborhood surveillance
The Avenues gang has long called Lincoln Heights and
other parts of Northeast L.A. its territory. It took root in the 1950s,
deriving its name from the avenues that cross Figueroa Street, and
gained national attention in 1995, when several members opened fire on a
car that made a wrong turn into a Cypress Park alley, killing
3-year-old Stephanie Kuhen. The girl became a national symbol of random
While its grasp in the area has declined significantly
over the last decade as crime has decreased, the gang remains
influential. The gang has been known to have strong ties to the Mexican
Mafia, a dominant force in California prisons.
The Avenues were
involved in several serious crimes from 1995 to 2001, authorities said,
including shooting a 15-year-old boy riding a bike, kicking open the
door of a 21-year-old man’s home and fatally shooting him in the head
and knocking a woman off her bike and threatening her husband with a box
The Avenues were also responsible for a series of deadly
attacks on African Americans in the 1990s and early 2000s. Federal
prosecutors alleged the goal was to push African Americans out of the predominantly Latino community.
The gang was also linked to the slaying of
a sheriff’s deputy in 2008, when the neighborhood was known as a gang
hot spot. In that case, a group of gang members mistook the deputy for a
member of a rival gang.
Juan Abel Escalante, who had three young
children and was described as having overcome the odds of growing up in a
gang-plagued neighborhood, was gunned down outside his parents’ Cypress
Park home as he prepared to go to work at Men’s Central Jail, where he
guarded some of the county’s most dangerous inmates. He was adjusting a
child’s car seat in a vehicle when he was shot in the back of the head.
But residents said Saturday that the neighborhood has since transformed.
the time of Escalante’s killing, in 2008 and 2009, federal indictments
sent more than 140 Avenues gang members to prison. A combination of gang
injunctions, police investigations and residents more willing to report
crime tempered the gang’s grip in the area.
district now houses movie and dance studios, a Muay Thai gym and food
prep kitchens. A sprawling apartment complex near Saturday’s crime scene
is home to seniors and families with young children.
said they feel safe walking at night, when Avenue 26 is transformed into
an outdoor food market where taco stands line the street with cumbia
music and hip-hop playing.
Peter, who declined to give his last
name due to the nature of the crime, said he visited the taco stand
twice Friday night — once for himself and again for his nephew. He said
he saw security and felt safe.