A search continued Monday for the assailant who fatally shot an off-duty Los Angeles police officer in the Lincoln Heights area, possibly after the lawman confronted one or more graffiti vandals.
Officer Juan Jose Diaz, 24, was shot early Saturday outside a taco stand in the area of Avenue 26 and Artesian Street and was pronounced dead at the scene, police said. Diaz had been with the department for two years and was last assigned to the Professional Standards Bureau.
No suspect description was released.
More than 100 people gathered for a vigil in Diaz’s memory Saturday night in front of the Los Angeles Police Department headquarters building downtown, where others continue to leave flowers, candles and other remembrances.
Among those participating were classmates who attended the Police Academy with Diaz. His two sisters, former teachers and former middle and high school classmates also attended. Several officers at the vigil were in uniform with black mourning bands around their badges.
The vigil was held in front of a photo of a smiling Diaz with a sign that read: “Rest easy brother. We’ll hold the line from here.” Many attending the gathering wore Dodgers gear, reflecting Diaz’s love of the team.
Sgt. Manny Hernandez, Diaz’s Police Academy sergeant in 2017, noted his pupil “was always asking questions.”
“I saw him grow up and had no doubt he’d be a great police officer,” Hernandez said. “He showed up every day with a smile on his face.”
Diaz’s sister, Anahi Diaz, told the crowd her brother was living his dream, saying he wanted to be a police officer since pre-school. Their mother and father “are broken,” she said.
“We need to stop this madness,” she told the crowd.
Shortly before 1 a.m. Saturday, a civilian flagged down an LAPD motorcycle officer to report a shooting in the area of Avenue 26 and Artesian Street, according to Assistant Police Chief Beatrice Girmala.
The officer called for backup, and responding officers found two victims suffering from gunshot wounds, Girmala said. Diaz was pronounced dead at the scene. The second victim was taken to a hospital and is expected to survive.
According to media reports, Diaz was eating at the taco stand with his girlfriend and her two brothers.
Craig Lally, president of the Los Angeles Police Protective League, the union that represents LAPD officers, told reporters Diaz may have confronted one or more graffiti vandals tagging a nearby wall.
“My understanding was there was some persons or person spray-painting a wall or something, committing an act of vandalism, and the officer — I don’t know what the conversation was — walked away,” Lally said. “There was no altercation that I know of, and then later, the officer was walking to his car and this person or persons went up and shot him.”
The Los Angeles Times, citing an unnamed law enforcement source, said a group of young men approached Diaz and his companions and began making threats prior to the shooting, with one of them showing a gun in his waistband. The gunfire erupted as Diaz and the others were trying to get into their vehicle and leave the area.
Police Chief Michel Moore is out of the country, with Girmala serving as acting chief in his absence. Moore has been in constant contact with the department regarding the shooting, Girmala said.
“Tonight we gathered to honor a man who dedicated himself to our city — a man whose passion was L.A.,” the department tweeted. “There were hugs & tears — but we held our heads high as we paid tribute to his dedication to something greater than himself. Tonight, our HQ Facility is proud to have Juan front & center.”
Members of Diaz’s Police Academy class have established a GoFundMe page to help his family with funeral and other expenses. The page is at www.gofundme.com/f/officer-juan-diaz.
“In honor of his memory and his surviving family, we ask that you support the family in this tragic event,” organizers of the page wrote. “Most will not understand the pain and grief, but many still have the ability to empathize. Back the blue and honor Officer Juan Diaz.”