Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore announced charges Tuesday against three out-of-town gang members accused of fatally shooting an off-duty Los Angeles police officer at a taco stand during a 90-minute crime spree in northeast Los Angeles last month.
The three — two men and a woman — were identified as Francisco Talamantes, 23; Cristian Facundo, 20; and Ashlynn Smith, 18. All three are residents of Temecula and were being held without bail since their arrest on Friday. Facundo fired the fatal shot that killed Officer Juan Diaz, Moore said.
Talamantes and Facundo face charges including murder with special circumstances and other counts. That would make them eligible for the death penalty if convicted. Smith faces charges including shooting into an inhabited vehicle and accessory to murder.
“This is an ongoing investigation and prosecution,” Moore said. “This was part of a larger crime spree.”
Friday’s arrests ended a six-day manhunt for the suspects. The department would not release photos of the suspects because investigators are still gathering evidence and interviewing people, Moore said.
Investigators had been working nonstop but finally got a break last week when they learned the identity of the alleged triggerman.
Using surveillance by plainclothes detectives and intelligence, Robbery-Homicide Division detectives were able to track down those believed to be involved in the shooting, LAPD sources said. The department’s Special Investigation Section, a unit known for its advanced surveillance techniques, had the suspects under watch for at least a couple of days as detectives put together evidence tying them to the killing, the sources said.
Capt. Billy Hayes, the head of the Robbery-Homicide Division, said investigators tied the group to the crime spree with surveillance video, witness statements and forensic evidence.
Shortly after midnight on July 27, the three suspects and another 21-year-old woman from Los Angeles vandalized a vehicle owned by a former boyfriend on Avenue 33 and later tagged a location on Eagle Rock Avenue, Hayes said. The group then tagged a location on Artesina Place, which is where Diaz confronted the tagger.
Facundo allegedly lifted his shirt to reveal a handgun, Hayes said. The tagger later returned with a group of young men and began threatening the 24-year-old Diaz, his girlfriend and her two brothers. Diaz, who was off duty, and his group tried to hurry to their car and drive away to avoid a violent confrontation.
As they got into the vehicle, the gunman opened fire, fatally wounding Diaz and injuring one of his girlfriend’s brothers. Talamantes and Facundo “walked with determination” back to the truck to fire bullets into the vehicle, Moore said.
After shooting into the truck, the group returned to Avenue 33 and waited for the owner of the vandalized vehicle to show up, Hayes said. When the owner and another person arrived, the shooter opened fire on the two people, but the gun malfunctioned, Hayes said. No bullets struck the other people.
Citing the ongoing investigation, the department declined to reveal the name of the 21-year-old woman who was with Talamantes, Facundo and Smith. Hayes said investigators are still combing through evidence. He also declined to say whether the suspects could be tied to other homicides.
The gunman claimed allegiance to the Avenues, a gang that has seen its once-powerful grip on the neighborhood wane in the last decade, and said Diaz and his group were in its territory, a law enforcement source said. The suspects taken into custody were Avenues gang members, according to a source familiar with the arrests.
Gangsters traveling into the city to commit crimes is not pervasive throughout Los Angeles, Moore said. But in the last year, he has been told some out-of-town gang members with generational ties have come “to, at times, create havoc and prey upon those neighborhoods and celebrate their lineage ... as odd as it sounds.” The phenomenon mostly occurs in South Los Angeles, he said.
Diaz lived in Cypress Park, just three miles north of the neighborhood where he was killed. He joined the LAPD two years ago and was assigned to the Special Operations Division, which conducts investigations into department personnel.
Friends and family said Diaz pursued a career in law enforcement to make a difference. He had wanted to be a cop since preschool, a family member told mourners at a vigil for the slain officer Saturday night.
Moore, who was out of the country when Diaz died, praised the young officer.
“Our officer grew up in this area,” Moore said. “He did exactly what we ask our officers to do.”
Diaz will be laid to rest on Monday.