Police shooting, protests rock Los Angeles suburb

Posted at 8:55 PM, Jul 25, 2012
and last updated 2012-07-25 22:56:49-04

(CNN) — Authorities in the Los Angeles suburb of Anaheim, California, have asked for a federal investigation into a pair of weekend police shootings that have sparked days of protests, the city’s mayor said Wednesday.

Police Chief John Welter said officers made 24 arrests after a protest that began at a City Council meeting Tuesday night turned violent, with demonstrators breaking windows and throwing rocks and bottles at police. Police responded with batons and nonlethal “bean-bag” and pepper spray projectiles, he said.

Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait told reporters Wednesday that he asked the U.S. attorney’s office in Los Angeles to investigate the fatal shootings of two men by police, but said violent protests “will simply not be tolerated in our city.”

“When the investigations are concluded, we will have a clear and complete understanding of these incidents,” Tait said. “At that time, we will have additional public dialogue about any actions that need to be taken. … We will not, however, accept any violent protests, vandalism or arson perpetrated under the guise of public protest.”

The family of the first man killed, 25-year-old Manuel Diaz, filed a civil rights and wrongful death lawsuit against the city and Police Department Tuesday seeking $50 million in damages.

The suit, filed in state court, says police shot the unarmed Diaz in the back and that when he fell, they shot him in the head and killed him.

Welter said there were more than 1,000 protesters Tuesday night, about two-thirds of whom were not from Anaheim — but 20 of the 24 people arrested were local.

“Our job is to protect property and life. Our job isn’t to stand back in the back and let anarchists or rioters damage property and injure people,” he said. “And if we don’t do that, you’ll be the first one criticizing me for where were the police, how come they weren’t out there protecting property and people.”

Those arrested face charges ranging from failure to disperse to assault with a deadly weapon. One man was found with a handgun, Welter said.

Tuesday night’s demonstration began with protests outside the City Council’s meeting at the Anaheim City Hall, less than a mile and a half north of Disneyland, the city’s most famous tourist attraction.

Demonstrators disrupted the meeting and blocked access to the building, forcing a delay in the session as police moved to clear emergency exits, Welter said.

The protest moved to downtown streets, where demonstrators blocked a major intersection and refused to move, Welter said.

“After allowing the crowd to protest for a couple of hours, the violence escalated to the point where an unlawful assembly was declared and the streets were then cleared of protesters,” he said.

Anaheim Police Sgt. Bob Dunn told CNN’s “Newsroom” that once the protest was broken up, “the crowds kind of moved around, sometimes fighting between each other, breaking windows and lighting fires and trash cans.”

It was Saturday afternoon’s fatal shooting of Diaz, whom police described as a gang member, that sparked the protests, CNN affiliate KCAL reported. Cell phone video taken at the scene and posted to YouTube showed residents confronting police officers as they ordered bystanders to back away from the man lying face down on a lawn before they cordoned off the area with yellow police tape.

Dozens of people surrounded the police officers; some threw objects at them and rolled a burning trash bin in their direction, according to CNN affiliate KTLA. Police responded with rubber bullets and pepper spray. One demonstrator showed the television news station bruises she said she got from rubber bullets fired at the crowd.

At one point, police lost control of a dog that attacked and bit at least one person. Welter apologized for the dog attack and said the city will cover the cost of treatment.

Sunday, protesters jammed the Anaheim Police Department to complain about shootings involving police officers. But later the same night — in a separate incident — police shot and killed a second man, whom they also considered a gang member, when he allegedly fired at police, CNN affiliate KABC reported.

Monday, hundreds held a vigil for Diaz, chanting in Spanish, according to KTLA.

The family cites witnesses who say Diaz was talking with two friends around 4 p.m. when a police car drove up with lights on “and an intent to confront the young men.” Diaz responded “instinctively when he saw people chasing him and began to run,” they say in the suit.

“There is a racial and economic component to this shooting,” said Dana Douglas, an attorney for the family. “Police don’t roust white kids in affluent neighborhoods who are just having a conversation. And those kids have no reason to fear police. But young men with brown skin in poor neighborhoods do. They are targeted by police, and something as simple as a friendly conversation is deemed ‘suspicious activity’ by police.”

Dunn said Wednesday the Diaz shooting took place when officers in the “high-crime gang neighborhood” attempted to stop three men, who ran off.

“It was during that foot pursuit that the officer-involved shooting occurred,” he said. “The circumstances surrounding that shooting are under investigation by the district’s attorney.”

Police say Diaz was unarmed but throwing unknown objects while running from police, KABC and KCAL reported, but the family called those comments “flat-out fabrications.”

The suit says Diaz committed no crime and was not under the influence of alcohol or drugs when he was shot.

Police in Anaheim were involved in six shootings in 2012, all but one of which were fatal, according to KTLA.

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