Slain Of­fi­cer Diaz had dreamed of serv­ing L.A., the city he loved

Lodi News-Sentinel - - PAGE TWO - By Ben Pos­ton and Laura New­berry

LOS AN­GE­LES — Two days af­ter a young off-duty of­fi­cer was fa­tally shot at a taco stand in Lin­coln Heights, po­lice were still look­ing for the gun­man who killed him.

Juan Jose Diaz, 24, was eat­ing near the stand shortly af­ter mid­night Satur­day with his girl­friend and her two broth­ers when he saw some­one tag­ging a wall, ac­cord­ing to law en­force­ment sources. Diaz told the per­son to stop, spurring a con­fronta­tion that led to his death.

Diaz was pro­nounced dead at the scene close to Av­enue 26 and Hum­boldt Street. His girl­friend’s brother was taken to a hos­pi­tal for treat­ment.

Out­side Diaz’s fam­ily home in Cy­press Park on Sun­day, a long­time friend of the of­fi­cer told the Los An­ge­les Times that Diaz wanted to make a dif­fer­ence in his city.

Gang ac­tiv­ity plagued Cy­press Park when they were grow­ing up there in the early 2000s, said Ed­uardo, who de­clined to give his last name be­cause the sus­pect may be a gang mem­ber. Drive-by shoot­ings were com­mon in the neigh­bor­hood just three miles north of Lin­coln Heights. As teenagers, they were stopped and ques­tioned by LAPD of­fi­cers while rid­ing bikes in the area.

The en­coun­ters were scary, Ed­uardo said, and they felt that the po­lice treated them un­fairly. He thinks that may have mo­ti­vated Diaz to pur­sue a job in law en­force­ment.

“He wanted to be that cop that was not cat­e­go­rized as a bad cop,” Ed­uardo said. “He wanted to be the good cop.”

Ac­cord­ing to law en­force­ment sources, a group of young men ap­proached Diaz some­time af­ter the tag­ging ex­change and be­gan threat­en­ing him and his friends. One of the young men lifted his shirt to re­veal a hand­gun.

The gun­man claimed al­le­giance to the Av­enues, a once-pow­er­ful gang that has lost its grip on Lin­coln Heights in the last decade, the source said. The gun­man told Diaz and his friends that they were in the gang’s ter­ri­tory. The group rushed to their car to drive away, but the gun­man opened fire as they got into the ve­hi­cle.

Diaz joined the force two years ago and was as­signed to the Spe­cial Op­er­a­tions Di­vi­sion, which con­ducts in­ves­ti­ga­tions into depart­ment per­son­nel. He wanted to be a cop since preschool, a fam­ily mem­ber told mourn­ers at a vigil for the slain of­fi­cer on Satur­day night.

His sis­ter, Anahi Diaz, told the crowd their mother and father are dev­as­tated by the killing.

“I just want to re­mind ev­ery­one that these peo­ple are putting their lives out there for us,” she said. “We have to pro­tect them as well; that’s the least we can do. They’re more than a badge. They’re hu­man be­ings.”

Child­hood friend Martin Gomez said Diaz “was never the jock, never the smart kid. He was the best kid. You could count on him for ev­ery­thing.”

Many at the vigil wore Dodgers cloth­ing be­cause Diaz loved the team.

Sgt. Manuel Her­nan­dez, Diaz’s Po­lice Academy sergeant, choked back tears as he re­mem­bered the cadet.

“I had no doubt that he was go­ing to be a great po­lice of­fi­cer,” Her­nan­dez said. “I even joked with him that I was sure I was go­ing to be work­ing for him one day.”

AL SEIB/LOS AN­GE­LES TIMES

Fam­ily friends of slain of­fi­cer Juan Diaz, Chris Martin and Ri­cardo Ca­ma­cho, visit a me­mo­rial in front of Los An­ge­les Po­lice Depart­ment head­quar­ters on Mon­day. Ca­ma­cho’s par­ents were god­par­ents to Of­fi­cer Diaz.

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