Three suspects in the killing of an off-duty Los Angeles police officer who was gunned down at a Lincoln Heights taco stand after confronting one or more graffiti vandals nearby were arrested Friday in Riverside County.
The arrests in the July 27 killing of Officer Juan Jose Diaz, 24, came during a series of early morning raids carried out in various locations. Mayor Eric Garcetti said the suspects were arrested in Riverside, Murrieta and Temecula.
Police also served search warrants in other locations, including Mount Washington and Glassell Park, where there were reports of another person being taken into custody.
The suspects, two men and a woman, were identified as 23-year-old Francisco Talamantes, 20-year-old Cristian Facundo and 18-year-old Ashlynn Smith, all residents of Temecula, police said. All were booked for suspicion of murder with a gang allegation and were held without bail.
“These are the folks that we believe are responsible for that senseless murder of Juan Diaz,” said Los Angeles Police Department Assistant Chief Beatrice Girmala.
Girmala credited the round-the-clock work done by LAPD Robbery-Homicide Division detectives on the case, and also thanked “the community for their tips, for their information and, quite frankly, for their courage for coming (forward) and being unafraid.”
Authorities said Diaz was at the taco stand near Avenue 26 and Artesian Street around 1 a.m. Saturday with his girlfriend and her two brothers. Diaz apparently confronted one or more taggers in the area.
The vandals are believed to have temporarily left the area, but later returned and confronted Diaz and his group, with one suspect allegedly displaying a weapon, according to various media reports.
Police said gunfire erupted as Diaz and his companions were getting into their vehicle to leave. Diaz died at the scene. Another person was taken to a hospital with non-life-threatening injuries.
Diaz had been with the LAPD for about two years. Diaz had been assigned to the Special Operations Division unit of the Professional Standards Bureau, commonly known as internal affairs.
Garcetti, speaking to reporters Friday morning at the Los Angeles Police Academy, hailed the arrests of “three people that we believe are the primary suspects responsible for the murder of Officer Juan Diaz.”
“We want to let the larger Los Angeles community know that we will always bring to justice anybody who would not only murder a police officer, but anybody who would take the life of any Angeleno,” Garcetti said.
Following the arrests, the Los Angeles Police Protective League union issued this statement:
“We are grateful that the cowards and thugs accused of the cold-blooded murder of Officer Juan Diaz are in custody. We appreciate the relentless effort our detectives and officers put in to finding these killers. We urge District Attorney Jackie Lacey to prosecute these cop killers to the fullest extent of the law, including seeking the death penalty. We continue to pray for and support Officer Diaz’s family during this time of grief.”
Garcetti hailed Diaz’s life as an “incredible Los Angeles story.”
“He grew up here in northeast Los Angeles,” Garcetti said. “When asked what he wanted to be when he grew up as a little boy, he was one of those boys who said, `a police officer.’ I think many of us say that when we’re 6 or 7. He actually did it. He came to this academy, did exceptionally well in this academy. Because of that was picked for some special duty. And (he) was doing what a police officer does — protecting his own community and the people of this city when his life was senselessly taken from him.”
Although services have not been formally announced, the Los Angeles Times reported that a visitation service will be held from 6 to 10 p.m. Aug. 11 at Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills, with funeral services planned for 9 a.m. Aug. 12 at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in downtown Los Angeles.