Anaheim residents angry after rash of officer-involved shootings

A recent uptick in officer-involved shootings in Anaheim has prompted outrage from residents concerned about police conduct.

The latest — which resulted in the death of a man Sunday night — was the city’s fifth fatal police shooting this year, said Anaheim Police Sgt. Bob Dunn. Last year, there were four officer-involved shootings, compared with six so far this year, he said.

The man killed Sunday was identified as Joel Mathew Acevedo, 21, of Anaheim. Authorities say the shooting occurred after police in an unmarked car tried to pull over a vehicle and a chase ensued. The driver lost control and crashed. Two men and a woman fled on foot and Acevedo fired at officers, who returned fire and killed him, according to authorities.

DISCUSS: Anaheim police shootings


That shooting came the same weekend that Manuel Angel Diaz, 25, was shot to death by an officer in an East Anaheim neighborhood. Authorities said Diaz was shot Saturday in the 700 block of North Anna Drive after running from police, but they did not reveal what led to the shooting. The incident prompted protests from residents, who threw bottles and rocks at police.

Two officers have been placed on administrative leave, and Mayor Tom Tait on Monday asked for an independent probe by the state attorney general and the U.S. attorney’s office.

“It is critical that the entire city, including our Police Department, has the trust of the public,” Tait said at a news conference. “This investigation will be completely transparent, and we will work with the community to make sure that they have confidence in the people who are sworn to protect and serve them.”

Still, tensions remained high in Diaz’s neighborhood. Many are critical of officers’ conduct right after the shooting, when police used pepper balls to disperse an angry crowd of about 100. In addition, a police dog was accidentally released into the group.

A makeshift memorial marks the site where Diaz was shot, with dozens of candles, flowers and signs — most of which are critical of police.

One read: “There’s blood on their badges.” Said another: “Stop killing, start protecting.”

Teresa Maldonado sat on the back of a truck where her mother was selling snacks. She said everyone in the neighborhood knew Diaz as “Stomper.” He liked to play with her 1-year-old brother, she said.

“I’m not scared to live here,” she said of the neighborhood, a known gang area filled with nondescript duplexes and apartment complexes, many with strollers outside. “I’m just scared of who’s next.”

Ricardo Hurtado, 21, said the gunshots prompted him to come outside his home Saturday. He said he saw Diaz handcuffed on the ground, his hands still shaking.

“They left him there,” he said.

A video of the moments after the shooting was posted on the OC Weekly’s website. Tensions continued to run high throughout the weekend, with residents setting fire to dumpsters Sunday evening as well, Dunn said.

Anaheim Police Chief John Welter said his department was “very concerned” about the increase in fatal officer-involved shootings and the outrage that has surrounded the two most recent ones. But, he added, “I’m not going to let people continue to escalate this violence to the point where the general public is going to be threatened.”

Welter urged the public to let the investigative process “run its course.”

“I’m concerned that people are taking half-truths or rumors about what’s going on at these crime scenes, rather than waiting for the investigations to finish … causing people to think we’re indiscriminately shooting people,” he said. “My officers have the right to protect themselves and others.”

In addition to the city’s probe, the Orange County district attorney’s office will investigate the shootings along with the Office of Independent Review.

Welter said both men shot over the weekend were “documented gang members,” but the incidents aren’t believed to be related.

Joanne Sosa, a community activist with the Take Back Anaheim initiative, said she is planning a rally Tuesday at Anaheim City Hall.

“How can you help people when they don’t even trust the police anymore, when they don’t trust the City Council anymore?” she said.

Seferino Garcia, executive director of Solevar, an Anaheim community group, said the recent unrest reflects long-standing tensions in the city.

“The community has no respect for the Police Department because they feel that they have nothing in common,” he said. “They don’t know each other. Years have gone by, and they’ve done nothing to solve the problems in the community. Now they’re having all these shootings, and the community is up in arms.”

Times staff writer Christine Mai-Duc contributed to this report.