A pair of suspected gang members were charged with murder on Tuesday in the death of an off-duty Los Angeles police officer who was fatally shot while visiting a taco stand with his girlfriend.
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Cristian Facundo, 20, and Franciso Talamantes, 23, were charged with one count of murder and two counts of attempted murder in the death of Juan Diaz, a 24-year-old Los Angeles Police Department officer who was killed last month, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office said.
The murder charge also carries a special circumstance which makes the suspects eligible for the death penalty.
Diaz, who had been with the department for just two years, was eating at a taco stand with his girlfriend and her two brothers at around 1 a.m. when he saw the suspects defacing a property in LA’s Lincoln Heights neighborhood, a police source told ABC’s Los Angeles station KABC. The officer had ordered the men to stop when one of them pulled out a gun and began threatening him.
The officer and his companions tried to avoid an altercation by getting into their vehicle and leaving, but the gunman, later identified as Facundo, opened fire, killing Diaz and injuring one the girlfriend’s brothers, the police source said.
Facundo, Talamantes, and a third suspect — Ashlyn Smith — also face a charge of shooting at an occupied motor vehicle and vandalism, according to the district attorney’s office. Smith, 19, also faces one count of accessory after the fact, while Talamantes was charged with one count of possession of a firearm by a felon, the office said.
“All three defendants also are accused of vandalizing a vehicle less than an hour before Diaz’s murder,” the district attorney’s office said in a statement on Tuesday. “After the murder, Facundo and Talamantes allegedly were driven back to the vandalism scene by Smith and are accused of an attempted murder there.”
Dozens of family members, friends and fellow officers gathered for a vigil at the LAPD’s headquarters a day after his death. The department tweeted images from the gathering late Saturday night, remembering him as a “dedicated public servant and Angeleno that put service to others above all else.”
Today we announced formal charges that have been brought forward against those responsible for the murder of Ofcr Juan Diaz. This organization worked 24/7 to search & find these killers, & made sure we did so in a manner that would bring honor to Ofcr Diaz. Proud of our people. pic.twitter.com/ERNEJNrKAw
— Chief Michel Moore (@LAPDChiefMoore) August 7, 2019
“Tonight we gathered to honor a man who dedicated himself to our city — A man whose passion was LA,” the department said in a subsequent tweet. “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.”
The officer’s loved ones and several members of the force — including Sgt. Manuel Hernandez, his police academy training officer — spoke at the vigil.
“He grew up in a bad neighborhood, infested with gangs, yet he led a good life,” Hernandez said.
“What we mainly want is for all of you guys to remember Juan for the goofball he was, the personality he was, always made someone smile,” Diaz’s sister, Anahi Diaz, added.