Unrest in Calif. city after police shootings

Associated Press

ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) — Family members of a man who died in a weekend police shooting have poured their anger into a civil rights lawsuit against this Southern California city, as public outrage spilled onto the streets in a fourth day of violence.

Manuel Diaz's family filed a lawsuit Tuesday against the city of Anaheim and its police department, claiming that he was shot and killed Saturday while running away, lawyer James Rumm said. The family, which is seeking $50 million in damages, planned to speak about the case on Wednesday.

Diaz's death, along with that of another man Sunday in another officer-involved shooting, have sparked protests from residents who want to know why such deadly force was used.

As city councilmembers voted unanimously late Tuesday to ask the U.S. attorney's office to investigate the recent officer-involved shootings, protesters grew violent outside City Hall.

Some had been shut out of the council meeting because there was no more room. They responded by ignoring warnings to disperse and tossing rocks and bottles at police, who fired bean bag rounds and pepper balls.

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 heed orders 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.

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Associated Press video journalist Raquel Maria Dillon contributed to this report.

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