Reputed gang members charged in off-duty LAPD officer's murder due in court

Two reputed gang members from Riverside County are set to be arraigned Wednesday on a capital murder charge stemming from the shooting of off-duty Los Angeles police Officer Juan Jose Diaz in Lincoln Heights amid what investigators called a 90-minute crime spree that included a separate attempted murder.

Cristian Facundo, 20, of Murrieta, and Francisco Talamantes III, 24, of Temecula, are charged in the July 27 death of Juan Jose Diaz, 24, who had been with the Los Los Angeles Police Department for about two years. Diaz was shot around 1 a.m. outside a taco stand near Avenue 26 and Artesian Street, where he had gone with his girlfriend and her two brothers.

The murder charge includes the special circumstance allegation of murder by an active member of a street gang.

Prosecutors will decide later whether to seek the death penalty against the two, who are also charged with two counts of attempted murder.

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Both men are also charged along with Ashlynn Smith, 18, of Temecula, with shooting at an occupied motor vehicle and vandalism. Smith also faces a count of being an accessory after the fact, while Talamantes was charged with a count of possession of a firearm by a felon.

Capt. William Hayes of the LAPD's Robbery-Homicide Division told reporters last month that Diaz and his group spotted Facundo and Smith walking on the other side of the street, and saw Facundo bend down and begin painting graffiti on a sidewalk. Diaz and another member of his group questioned Facundo, who became aggressive toward them and lifted his shirt to reveal that he was carrying a handgun, Hayes said.

According to the police captain, Facundo walked away briefly, and Diaz and his group decided to leave the area and got into a vehicle. As the group was leaving the scene, Facundo and Talamantes ran along the right side of the vehicle, and Facundo fired several rounds through the rear window, striking Diaz and another man inside in a shooting that was recorded on surveillance video, Hayes said.

The driver fled the area and spotted a nearby LAPD patrol car and summoned help, Hayes said.

Diaz died at the scene, and the other man was critically injured.

Diaz was armed but had no chance to use his weapon to defend himself, police said.

"This murder and this senseless violence did not occur in isolation,'' LAPD Chief Michel Moore said. ``This was a part of a larger crime spree.'"

 According to Hayes, the shooting of Diaz came amid a roughly 90-minute crime spree carried out by the three suspects and another unidentified 21- year-old Los Angeles woman. Hayes said that shortly after midnight July 27, the group went to the 2500 block of West Avenue 33 and vandalized a vehicle belonging to a former boyfriend of one of the women. A portion of that crime was caught on surveillance video, Hayes said.

About 20 minutes later, the group went to the 4200 block of Eagle Rock Boulevard and painted some gang graffiti on a business in that area, after which they moved onto the area of the taco stand in Lincoln Heights, where the Diaz shooting occurred, Hayes said.

Following that shooting, the group went back to Avenue 33 and waited for the ex-boyfriend whose car the suspects had vandalized earlier, Hayes said.

When that person appeared, one of the suspects tried to open fire, but the weapon malfunctioned, and nobody was injured, Hayes said.

All three defendants were arrested Aug. 2 by detectives from the LAPD's Robbery-Homicide Division and have remained behind bars since then.

Diaz was a native of the Northeast Los Angeles area and grew up wanting to become a police officer.

"Our officer was doing everything he could (by leaving the scene), and why they chose to do this, I believe, is that the bravado or just the senseless lack of any respect for life to go out and exact violence like this for such a trivial matter of someone making a mention to a person doing something wrong is intolerable and look forward to justice being served as to consequences,'' Moore said.

RELATED: Hundreds mourn the loss of LAPD officer killed in Lincoln Heights

Moore, retired LAPD Chief Charlie Beck, Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti were among the mourners who gathered Aug. 12 at a memorial service for Diaz, who was assigned to the Special Operations Division of the department's Professional Standards Bureau.