Dozens of Los Angeles Police Department officers and detectives mobilized across LA and Riverside counties early Friday to carry out raids that resulted in arrests in connection with last weekend's fatal shooting of an off-duty LAPD officer.
The department said three primary suspects were arrested in the attack on Juan Jose Diaz, 24, who had been a police officer for fewer than three years.
The suspects, two men and a woman, were identified as 23-year-old Francisco Talamantes, 20-year-old Cristian Facundo and 18-year-old Ashlynn Smith, all residents of Temecula, police said. All were booked for suspicion of murder with a gang allegation and were held without bail.
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Diaz was shot to death in Lincoln Heights after confronting a group of taggers, police and police union officials said.
Early morning action by members of the LAPD’s SWAT team and Metropolitan Division took place at five locations, including Glassell Park, to the north of the murder scene, and in a neighborhood in Murrieta in Riverside County, to where law enforcement sources told NBCLA one of the suspects had been tracked earlier in the week.
Residents said they noticed SWAT activity before dawn in the community northeast of downtown LA. One woman said it was frightening to learn what the operation was all about.
"Having people like this living in our neighborhoods where we have kids... it's terrible," said a resident who asked to be identified only as Michelle. "We need to get this scum off the street and have our neighborhoods back.
"Taking the life of an innocent police officer, that his life hadn't even started, yet. And, for what? For nothing. Stupidity."
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said Friday morning that three people were arrested in the Riverside County operation. They were identified only as men in their 20s. Police did not provide details early Friday about roles each man may have played in the killing.
"This represents significant steps on the road to justice for Juan Diaz, the others who were with him and his family," said Assistant Police Chief Beatrice Girmala, who is the department's acting chief.
She thanked members of the community for coming forward to help with the investigation.
Diaz had been with the department for two years, according the LAPD's Media Relations Section. His funeral is scheduled for Aug. 11.
He was shot early Saturday outside a taco stand in the area of Avenue 26 and Artesian Street and died at the scene, police said. A person who flagged down a motorcycle officer to report the shooting said shots had been fired at the location.
Law enforcement sources said it appears Diaz was killed after he confronted a group of men who were possibly tagging a building or business. The group of men left, then returned, and began shooting.
A person traveling with the officer was hospitalized, but expected to survive.
Diaz was 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.
The young officer was described by colleagues as someone who showed up every day with a smile on his face, ready to serve his community. More than 100 people gathered for a vigil Saturday night, just hours after the shooting, Diaz's memory in front of the Los Angeles Police Department headquarters building. Among those participating were classmates who attended the Police Academy with Diaz, his two sisters, former teachers and former middle and high school classmates.
Several officers at the vigil were in uniform with black mourning bands around their badges.
The vigil was in front of a photo of a smiling Diaz with a sign that read: "Rest easy brother. We'll hold the line from here."
Sgt. Manny Hernandez, Diaz's Police Academy sergeant in 2017, noted his pupil "was always asking questions.
"I saw him grow up and had no doubt he'd be a great police officer," Hernandez said. "He showed up every day with a smile on his face."
Diaz's sister, Anahi Diaz, told the crowd her brother was living his dream, noting he wanted to be a police officer since pre-school. Their mother and father "are broken," she said.
"We need to stop this madness," she told the crowd.
NBCLA's Toni Guinyard and Christine Kim contributed to this report.