US

3 Arrested in Killing of Off-Duty Los Angeles Police Officer

By The Associated Press

LOS ANGELES—Three suspects were arrested on Aug. 2 in the fatal shooting of an off-duty Los Angeles police officer, officials said.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti described those arrested as the “primary suspects responsible for the murder of Officer Juan Diaz” and said they were taken into custody in the cities of Temecula and Murietta in Riverside County.

“We will always bring to justice anybody who would not only murder a police officer but anybody who would take the life of any Angeleno,” Garcetti said.

The suspects are in their 20s and were arrested as authorities conducted searches related to the case, said Assistant Chief Beatrice Girmala. Girmala did not identify the suspects or specify each person’s role in the shooting.

“Although this investigation is ongoing, which limits our ability to provide further details at this time, we feel confident a murderer is off the streets,” the police department said in a post on Twitter.

Diaz, 24, is the second off-duty officer killed in the Los Angeles area in recent months. In June, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputy Joseph Gilbert Solano was shot and killed at a Jack in the Box restaurant in the eastern Los Angeles suburb of Alhambra.

Juan Diaz
This image released by Los Angeles Police Department shows officer Juan Diaz. (Los Angeles Police Department via AP) 

The suspect, Rhett Nelson of Utah, is also charged in the killing of professional Russian snowboarder Dmitry Koltsov. Authorities have said that the killings of Solano and Koltsov are believed to be random. Nelson has pleaded not guilty in both cases.

Diaz on Saturday, July 27 was standing in line at a taco stand in the Lincoln Heights neighborhood at 1 a.m. with his girlfriend and two other males when he noticed a man vandalizing something nearby and approached him.

The man, who authorities believe is a member of the Avenues gang, left but returned a short time later with a group of other males and lifted up his shirt to display a handgun.

Diaz and the others tried to get into a car to avoid violence but the man started shooting, police said. The officer and one of the other males were hit by gunfire. Diaz died from his wounds and the other man was hospitalized.

“Today’s and this morning’s operations represents significant steps on the road to justice for Juan Diaz, the others who were with him that night and his entire family,” Girmala said.

Los Angeles Police Department
A memorial for Los Angeles Police Officer Juan Diaz is on display at the Los Angeles Police Department headquarters in Los Angeles, on July 31, 2019. (Sarah Reingewirtz/The Orange County Register via AP)

Diaz had been on the force for two years and was assigned to the police department’s Professional Standards Bureau.

“Through due diligence and a penchant for justice, we have moved one step closer to bringing justice to fallen LAPD Officer Juan Diaz and his family,” Chief Michel Moore said in a post on Twitter. “We continue to offer prayers and condolences to his family during this unimaginably difficult time.”

The union that represents Los Angeles Police Department officers said prosecutors should seek the death penalty in the case.

“We are grateful that the cowards and thugs accused of the cold-blooded murder of Officer Juan Diaz are in custody,” the Los Angeles Police Protective League said in a statement.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, issued a moratorium on death row executions in March that granted temporary reprieves to more than 700 inmates.

He said no executions would take place during his term. California has executed 13 inmates since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976.

By Stefanie Dazio