Hundreds of mourners gathered Monday to say a final farewell to a 24-year-old Los Angeles Police Department officer who was shot while off-duty in Lincoln Heights, where he confronted a reputed gang member who was allegedly painting graffiti on a sidewalk.
Juan Jose Diaz was killed in the early morning hours of July 27 near Avenue 26 and Artesian Street, where he had gone with his girlfriend and her two brothers to a taco stand.
Los Angeles Catholic Archbishop Jose Gomez presided over the funeral service at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels downtown. Father Tesfaldet Asghedom, pastor at Sacred Heart Parish in Lincoln Heights, delivered the homily.
Among the numerous uniformed LAPD officers on hand for the 90-minute services was Chief Michel Moore. Also attending were retired LAPD Chief Charlie Beck, Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti.
“I know for the family, (in) a moment like this you play games,” Garcetti said. “Friends and loved ones say, `What if?’ A mother and a father say, `What if he hadn’t become a police officer? What if he hadn’t gone to that place that night? … What if he hadn’t just confronted a tagger?’
“I want to make some sense of that for the family,” Garcetti said. “I think all of us in this room still believe that there is good and bad, and that there is right and wrong. And when men and women stand up for what is right and what is good, society works. And even more than that: lives are saved. … Juan Diaz didn’t just do what is right some of the time; he did what was right all of the time,” Garcetti said.
Moore called Diaz “a young man filled with such life and possibility, so senselessly taken from us. … Today, as our faith and culture would have it, is to be a day of celebration and remembrance; to all of us, it’s a profound day of sorrow and loss.”
Following the services, the flag-draped casket was escorted from the cathedral past rows of officers standing at attention.
Diaz grew up in the northeast Los Angeles area and professed his desire as a child to become a police officer. He had been with the LAPD for about two years when he was killed. He was assigned to the Special Operations Division unit of the department’s Professional Standards Bureau.
“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,”’ Garcetti said earlier this month. “I think many of us say that when we’re 6 or 7. He actually did it. He came to this (police) 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.”
Three people were arrested in Riverside County Aug. 2 in connection with the killing. Two of them, reputed gang members Cristian Facundo, 20, of Murrieta, and Francisco Talamantes III, 23, of Temecula, were subsequently charged with one count of murder and two counts of attempted murder, along with a special circumstance allegation of murder by an active member of a street gang. Both men, along with another suspect, Ashlynn Smith, 18, of Temecula, were also charged with shooting at an occupied motor vehicle and vandalism.
Smith also faces a count of being an accessory after the fact, while Talamantes was charged with a count of possession of a firearm by a felon.
Capt. William Hayes of the LAPD’s Robbery-Homicide Division said Diaz and his group spotted Facundo and Smith walking on the other side of the street while they were at the taco stand, and saw Facundo bend down and begin painting graffiti on a sidewalk. Diaz and another member of his group questioned Facundo, who became aggressive toward them and lifted his shirt to reveal that he was carrying a handgun, Hayes said.
According to Hayes, Facundo walked away briefly, and Diaz and his group decided to leave the area and got into a pickup. As the group was leaving the scene, Facundo and Talamantes ran along the right side of the truck, and Facundo fired several rounds through a rear window, striking Diaz and another man inside, Hayes said.
The driver fled the area and spotted a nearby LAPD patrol car and summoned help, Hayes said.
Diaz died at the scene, and the other man was critically injured.
The fatal shooting was recorded on surveillance video, Hayes said.
Diaz was armed but had no chance to defend himself, police said.
According to Hayes, the shooting of Diaz came amid a roughly 90-minute crime spree carried out by the three suspects and an unidentified 21-year-old Los Angeles woman. Hayes said that shortly after midnight July 27, the group went to the 2500 block of West Avenue 33 and vandalized a vehicle belonging to a former boyfriend of one of the women.
About 20 minutes later, the group went to the 4200 block of Eagle Rock Boulevard and painted some gang graffiti on a business in that area, after which they moved onto the area of the taco stand in Lincoln Heights, where the Diaz shooting occurred, Hayes said.
Following that shooting, the group went back to Avenue 33 and waited for the ex-boyfriend whose car the suspects had vandalized earlier, Hayes said. When that person appeared, one of the suspects tried to open fire, but the weapon malfunctioned, and nobody was injured, Hayes said.
Facundo and Talamantes face a possible death sentence if convicted, but prosecutors will decide later whether to seek capital punishment.
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