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Teen charged in Downey officer’s killing is innocent, his sister says

Late Wednesday night, Maricela Alvarado received a cryptic text message from her teenage brother.

“Mari I love all y’all,” the message read.

“My homie ... up n did something,” it continued, using a profanity.

The message came at 11:18 p.m., just minutes after Downey police Officer Ricardo Galvez was shot and killed in an attempted robbery outside the department’s headquarters.

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Alvarado showed the text message to reporters Friday outside the Downey courtroom where her brother, 16-year-old Abel Diaz, appeared on a murder charge in connection with Galvez’s shooting.

Diaz was one of three people who were arrested on suspicion of murder in the shooting of the 29-year-old police officer. Galvez, a Marine reservist who served twice overseas and became a police officer in Downey five years ago, had just left a training event and was sitting in his personal car in a parking lot next to the department’s headquarters when he was killed, investigators said.

Alvarado, 24, said she spoke to her brother after his arrest.

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“I didn’t shoot the officer. My friend did,” she said Diaz told her.

Diaz, who has been charged as an adult and remains jailed in lieu of $1 million, chose to delay his arraignment until Monday after a brief court appearance. Several of his relatives were in attendance, and his mother cried out at one point and had to be restrained by another of her sons.

A district attorney’s spokeswoman, Jane Robison, said “the evidence will show that [Diaz] was involved in events that led to the officer’s death.” She said prosecutors are not alleging that Diaz pulled the trigger. She declined to comment further.

The three suspects were arrested after a chase led by a Downey officer who heard the gunfire and saw a Nissan sedan speeding away from the parking lot. The car’s driver was captured shortly after the pursuit ended in Montebello. Diaz and another man ran from the Nissan but were taken into custody hours later, sheriff’s officials said.

On Friday, sheriff’s officials identified the other two people who were arrested as Jeremy Alvarez, 21, and Steven Knott, 18. They were booked on suspicion of murder on Thursday, but have not been charged in the case.

In an interview with The Times on Friday, the Nissan’s owner, Rebecca Ustrell, said Alvarez was her boyfriend and that Knott was his brother.

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Ustrell said she met Alvarez two years ago at a Montebello apartment building. They began dating and eventually started living together. Alvarez’s brother enjoys rapping and lives in an adjacent building, she said.

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Outside of the Carob Way apartment building where she lives, Ustrell stood quietly with her arms crossed. She said she had been interviewed by homicide detectives three times since 3 a.m. on Thursday, after police searched her apartment unit, impounded her vehicle and took her cellphone.

“He’s a big guy, he’s 6-1 and yeah, because of his haircut he maybe looks like a gangbanger, but looks can be deceiving,” she said of her boyfriend. “He may look mean, but he’s very nice and generous.”

Ustrell said she did not know how Alvarez and Knott knew Diaz.

Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Lt. John Corina said detectives believe that Diaz and Knott approached Galvez while Alvarez acted as the getaway driver. Detectives, he said, are also investigating whether the three were responsible for a series of recent robberies in an area that includes Downey, Lakewood and Bellflower.

Once they were in custody, the suspects admitted to trying to rob Galvez, according to Corina, who said Galvez was not wearing his uniform at the time of the attack and was not targeted because he was a police officer. The murder weapon, a revolver, has been recovered, he said.

As she left the courthouse Friday afternoon, Alvarado repeatedly professed her teenage brother’s innocence.

“He is still in school. He has good grades. This isn’t him,” she said. “He doesn’t do this kind of thing.”

richard.winton@latimes.com

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ruben.vives@latimes.com

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james.queally@latimes.com

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