Three suspects were arrested in connection with the shooting death of Los Angeles police Officer Juan Diaz as authorities conducted early morning raids in two counties Friday, Aug. 2, authorities said. Police released the names of the suspects, all of them Temecula residents, late Friday.
The suspects, who police believe to be responsible for the deadly shooting in Lincoln Heights Saturday were arrested in Riverside, Murrieta and Temecula – in Riverside County – Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said.
Warrants were also served in Glassell Park and Mt. Washington areas of Los Angeles County, authorities said, but it wasn’t immediately clear what was found at those locations. The specific time of the raids was not known.
Late Friday, police identified those arrested as Francisco Talamantes, 23, Cristian Facundo, 20 and Ashlynn Smith, 18, all residents of Temecula. They were booked on suspicion of murder with a gang allegation and were being held on no bail, LAPD said in a statement.
“These are the folks that we believe are responsible for that senseless murder of Juan Diaz,” said LAPD Assistant Chief Beatrice Girmala
The early morning raids were conducted by members of LAPD’s SWAT team and Metropolitan Division. Personnel from the Murrieta Police Department helped in serving the search warrants.
In an area of beige-and-tan homes in the 36000 block of Castellane Drive in Murrieta, a heavy LAPD presence was spotted early Friday morning, including a helicopter and SWAT members, neighbors said.
A man wearing all black came out of a home and green laser lights from SWAT rifles were trained on his shirt. He was placed in a SWAT vehicle and driven away, a neighbor said.
So far, LAPD has not confirmed that was the location of one of the arrests.
Girmala said the arrests were the culmination of round-the-clock work done by LAPD Robbery-Homicide Division detectives on the case. She thanked “the community for their tips, for their information and, quite frankly, for their courage for coming (forward) and being unafraid.”
Police were conducting interviews Friday following the arrests, Sgt. Greg Kraft of the Department’s Media Relations Section said.
Besides their identities, little information was immediately released about the suspects. One suspect reportedly mentioned an affiliation to a gang before the shooting, according to various media outlets.
Talamantes is the only suspect of the three known to have a criminal history. On Feb. 27, he pleaded guilty to possession of controlled substances for sale, possession of controlled substances while armed and vandalism, according to Riverside County Superior Court records. He was sentenced to 270 days in jail. Talamantes pleaded guilty on Aug. 26, 2016, to disturbing the peace after a felony charge of battery on a spouse or cohabitant was dismissed.
Diaz, 24, was fatally shot around 1 a.m. Saturday near a taco stand around Avenue 26 and Artesian Street in Lincoln Heights. He was with his girlfriend and her two brothers when a group of taggers confronted him.
The vandals were believed to have temporarily left the area, but returned later and confronted the group. One suspect allegedly mentioned his gang allegiance and lifted his shirt to display a weapon, according to various media reports.
The suspect allegedly opened fire as Diaz and his companions were entering their vehicle to leave. Diaz died at the scene and one of his girlfriend’s brothers was hospitalized with non-life threatening injuriues.
A memorial to the slain officer remained in a cul-de-sac at Avenue 26 and Artesian Street, in front of an auto shop and across from the L.A. Department of Water and Power’s Artesian Center.
A few residents stopped by to pay their respects Friday.
Mourners placed an American flag with Diaz’s photo fixed on top. Alongside, there was another flag of black and white Stars and Stripes with a blue stripe in the middle – a special flag to honor first responders who have died.
Below, 53 candles stood, some still lit, forming a cross. Several flower arrangements accented the candle cross and flags.
Two signs also hung on the nearby fence with messages to Diaz.
“Your short life burned bright,” one said. “We will not let the darkness of pathetic thugs rule Lincoln Heights. Only love (and) peace belong here.”
A memorial to Diaz in front of LAPD Headquarters in Downtown L.A. remained standing outside the front entrance, Friday.
Diaz had been assigned to the Special Operations Division unit of the Professional Standards Bureau, or internal affairs, though all indications were that the shooting was unrelated to his secretive work, law enforcement sources told NBC4.
Garcetti called 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,” he continued. 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.”