A man accused of killing Los Angeles Police Department Officer Juan Diaz outside a taco stand in Lincoln Heights after the policeman and a friend told him to stop tagging a sidewalk has been charged with murder, authorities said Tuesday.
Diaz, 24, was off-duty when he was gunned down near Avenue 26 and Humboldt Street around 1 a.m. on July 27.
But those accused of killing him were involved in a series of other crimes that same night, including another shooting, according to LAPD. That second shooting allegedly targeted an ex-boyfriend.
Cristian Adrian Facundo, the 20-year-old suspected of fatally shooting Diaz, and Francisco Talamantes, 23, have been charged with murder while Ashlynn Smith, 18, has been charged with accessory to murder, according to LAPD. The three suspects were arrested Friday morning.
LAPD Chief Michel Moore said the department continues to piece together hundreds of pieces of evidence — tying together a string of crimes that started just after midnight. The three suspects were allegedly also with a 21-year-old Los Angeles woman who has not been identified by police.
It was seven minutes after midnight on July 27 when the suspects went to an area in the 2500 block of West Avenue 33 and vandalized the vehicle of an ex-boyfriend of one of the two women in the group, LAPD Captain William Hayes told reporters.
They left and then went to the 4200 block of Eagle Rock Boulevard, just over a mile away, where they tagged some gang-related markings on the side of a business about 20 minutes later, Hayes said.
The group then allegedly traveled to an area of Lincoln Heights near Artesian Street and Avenue 26.
Diaz and three childhood friends had gone to a taco stand in the area and were eating on the back of a pickup truck bed when they spotted Facundo spray-painting a sidewalk with gang-affiliated graffiti, according to Hayes.
“Juan Diaz and one of the people with him kinda questioned why they were doing that and asked them to stop,” Hayes said. “Cristian Facundo immediately became aggressive, combative in nature.”
Hayes said Facundo approached the group and “pulled up his shirt and exposed a handgun that he had concealed in his waistband.”
Facundo then walked to the other side of the street, and Diaz and his friends decided to leave, according to Hayes.
The truck they were driving pulled out and was starting to drive away just as Facundo and Talamantes ran up to the right side of the vehicle and started shooting, Hayes said.
“Cristian Facundo fired several rounds into the back of the vehicle, through the open right rear window,” striking Diaz and another man sitting in the back seat who was left critically wounded, Hayes said.
The truck’s driver then went a short distance down the street, Hayes said, making a right on Avenue 26 where a traffic unit was found. Authorities soon responded and Diaz was pronounced dead at the scene.
A law enforcement source has told the Los Angeles Times Diaz was with his girlfriend and her two brothers at the time, and the gunman had claimed allegiance to a gang before opening fire.
Authorities have said they believe the shooter is a member of the Avenues gang.
But the killing of Officer Diaz was not the last crime allegedly committed by the suspects that day.
After the shooting, they returned to the 2500 block of West Avenue 33 — where they had vandalized a vehicle earlier — and lied in wait for an ex-boyfriend of one of the women and another person before opening fire, according to Hayes.
“Fortunately, for those two individuals, the weapon malfunctioned and they were able to seek cover,” Hayes said.
Everyone involved in the incident then got into their vehicles and left the scene, he said.
The man who was shot alongside Diaz suffered “substantial” facial injuries and is still recovering at home, Moore said. “He has a rough road ahead of him still,” the chief added.
Witnesses and surveillance video has backed much of the timeline compiled by LAPD while other pieces of forensic evidence are being withheld, Hayes said.
The investigation is ongoing and Moore said the department is not releasing photos of the suspects since witnesses are still being interviewed and asked to make identifications.
LAPD is also withholding the identity of the fourth person with the suspects that night pending further investigation.
Diaz, who was with the force for two years, has been remembered as a passionate young officer who chose a career in law enforcement after growing up around gangs. His current listed address in Cypress Park is just about a mile from where he was shot.
“He grew up in a gang-infested neighborhood, and he still managed to be a good man,” LAPD Officer Manuel Hernandez said at a vigil held the evening of his death.
Family members have said Diaz wanted to become a police officer since he was a child.
“He always wanted to be a police officer. He was dedicated to this community, to this city — whether on-duty or off-duty, he saw his job as protecting all of us,” Los Angeles Police Commission Vice President Eileen Decker said.
Hayes said the investigation is still “in its infancy” while Moore vowed to bring justice.
“The bravado, just the senseless lack of any respect for life — to go out and exact violence like this for such a trivial matter of someone making a mention to a person doing something wrong — is intolerable,” Moore said.
A GoFundMe page was set up to raise money for Diaz’s family.