Anaheim Protests Turn Violent, Family of Victim Sues

The family of the Latino man shot by police in Anaheim, Calif., filed a lawsuit against the police department as protests escalated and even turned violent.

Protesters threw rocks and bottles at police in riot gear. Riot police fired back, shooting rounds of bean bags and peppers and crowds of angry protesters Tuesday evening.

The protesters gathered of City Hall as councilmembers voted on asking the U.S. attorney’s office to investigate Sunday’s shooting death of Manuel Diaz, a suspected gang member who was unarmed when he was killed while running away from police.

Diaz’s family filed a lawsuit Tuesday seeking $50 million in damages. They are planning a press conference Wednesday.

People are saying, 'You know what? We have to stop this. As an organization, we are trying to find peace, but there comes a point where you have to stand up strong.

— Benny Diaz, state director of the League of United Latin American Citizens in California

Residents have grown angry about the growing number of police-related shootings this year. They claim officers should use less deadly weapons rather than resorting to lethal force. Police say Diaz was a known gang member and failed to heed orders from police to stop when he ran from them.

The protests outside of City Hall grew violent when many protesters were turned away from the meeting because it was too overcrowded. About 24 protesters were arrested.

Officers formed lines to try to contain the crowd as residents set fire to trash cans, taunted police and swarmed a Starbucks, breaking windows. At one point, police shut down a gas station when protesters were seen filling canisters with gas. At least two people were arrested, police Sgt. Bob Dunn said.

The back-to-back deaths over the weekend took the tally of shootings by police officers in this Orange County city to six so far this year, up from four a year before. Five of the incidents have been fatal.

Police Chief John Welter said Diaz was shot after two officers approached three men who were acting suspiciously in an alley before running away. One officer chased Diaz to the front of an apartment complex.

The chief would not say what led the officer to shoot Diaz. But he failed to stop and threw something on the roof of the complex that contained what officers believe to be heroin, Welter said. Both officers were placed on paid leave pending an investigation.

Mayor Tom Tait said a description from court papers relayed to him by a reporter that Diaz had been shot in the leg and in the back of his head was "unsettling."

Theresa Smith, whose son was killed Dec. 11, 2009, by Anaheim officers at a Walmart store, said she went by the scene of Saturday's shooting and was astounded by what she saw.

"There were pieces of brain on the ... darn grass, in front of all these children, in front of all these people," Smith said. "This traumatizes people, and these people are angry."

Anaheim is a city of contrasts that ranges from upscale, hilltop homes to packed, gritty apartment complexes.

The city 25 miles southeast of Los Angeles is known as home to the Angels baseball team, and above all, to world-famous Disneyland. On Tuesday night, police helicopters hovered above the violence at City Hall as colorful fireworks from the nearby theme park lit up the sky.

As California's Hispanic population has grown, so has the Anaheim's, hitting nearly 53 percent in 2010, census figures show.

Residents' concerns about the use of police force in the city aren't new. Last month, Anaheim decided to look into hiring an independent investigator to review police shootings amid protests by relatives of those killed in officers' gunfire.

Latino activists say that isn't enough and want federal officials to investigate the Saturday shooting.

Tait, who has called for state and federal investigations, said: "If the Latino community is saying there is a rift, then there is rift, and we need to address that."

The police union issued a statement defending the officers involved in the shootings and said both men killed were gang members who had criminal records. The union also said that just before Diaz turned toward officers, he pulled an object from his waistband — a common place where gang members hide guns.

"I believe that the independent investigations by the Orange County district attorney's office into both incidents will show no wrongdoing by these officers," said Kerry Condon, the police association's president.

Benny Diaz, state director of the League of United Latin American Citizens in California, said he wants a citizen review commission to keep tabs on police, officers to undergo sensitivity training and federal officials to investigate.

"People are saying, 'You know what? We have to stop this,'" said Diaz, adding that residents' past requests for a probe of officer shootings have gone nowhere. "As an organization, we are trying to find peace, but there comes a point where you have to stand up strong."

The protest Tuesday capped four consecutive days of violence aimed at police officers and unrest. On Saturday, demonstrators hurled rocks and bottles at officers who were securing the scene for investigators, and police responded by firing bean bags and pepper balls.

On Sunday, protesters swarmed police headquarters during a news conference and later set fire to a trash bin and pushed it into the street outside the apartment complex where Manuel Diaz died. On Monday night, his mother joined the relatives of others killed in police shootings in a march near where her son was shot.

The second shooting occurred Sunday when officers spotted a suspected gang member in a stolen sport utility vehicle. A brief pursuit ended when three people jumped from the vehicle and ran. Joel Mathew Acevedo, 21, fired at an officer and the officer fatally shot him, authorities said.

Both incidents were under investigation by the county's district attorney office, which asked witnesses to come forward with information or video footage of Saturday's shooting.

The FBI is conducting a review to determine whether a civil rights investigation is warranted, said agency spokeswoman Laura Eimiller.

Based on reporting by The Associated Press.

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