Anaheim chief 'very concerned' about uptick in police shootings
This post has been corrected. See the note at the bottom for details.
Anaheim Police Chief John Welter said his department was "very concerned" about an uptick in fatal officer-involved shootings and the outrage that has surrounded the two most recent weekend incidents.
The latest incident -- which resulted in the death of a man Sunday night -- marked 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.
"We're very concerned," Welter told The Times, adding that his department is "always" looking for ways to prevent such incidents.
Tensions were high in the Orange County city after the first shooting Saturday, which resulted in the death of a man identified as 25-year-old Manuel Diaz. Authorities said Diaz was shot in the 700 block of North Anna Drive after running from police, but they did not reveal what led to the shooting.
The Orange County district attorney's office — which handles investigations into officer-involved shootings — was called to the scene, but Welter said as police worked to to secure the area, a crowd gathered and “started becoming very vocal and agitated.”
The result was a melee with bottles and rocks thrown at officers, prompting authorities to fire non-lethal rounds and pepper balls to settle the crowd, police said. Television footage of the confrontation showed an unrestrained police dog lunging at a group of people that included children.
One man was bitten on the arm, suffering "small puncture wounds," before police restrained the dog, Welter said. The dog had accidentally gotten out of its handler’s car because a rear window was “not secure,” the chief said.
Five people were arrested in the melee, authorities said. Welter said about half a dozen people were injured by rubber bullets.
The second shooting came late Sunday evening, when an unidentified man ran from police after a traffic stop and fired a handgun at an officer, Sgt. Bob Dunn said. The officer returned fire, fatally striking the man.
The shootings have sparked an outcry from residents already frustrated with a series of officer-involved shootings. The Orange County district attorney’s office has asked for photos and videos of the first incident; and Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait said at a Sunday afternoon press conference he would ask the state attorney general’s office to assist with the investigation.
“Whatever the truth is, we will own it,” he said.
Welter urged people 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. “From my opinion, my officers have the right to protect themselves and others.”
Welter said his department was looking at ways to prevent similar incidents from occurring in the wake of the two shootings.
“Quite frankly, 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 said.
Outside the apartment complex on North Anna Drive, Edgar Frias, a 24-year-old who had attended high school with Diaz, called the victim a "good guy."
"There was no reason to shoot him," he said. He heard gunshots on Saturday and came out of his mother's house to find Diaz dead.
He said many in the neighborhood are upset over the shooting, which many see as unjustified.
"That's what everybody wants," he said. "Justice."
Mariano Macedo stood outside a duplex with Frias on Monday afternoon, watching the TV trucks come and go. Across the street was a growing makeshift memorial with dozens of candles, handwritten signs and a framed photo of the Virgin of Guadalupe.
Macedo said that everyone in the neighborhood knows each other and are traumatized by the recent shooting.
"It's a big mistake," he said.
[For the record, 7:30 p.m.: In a previous version of this post, Welter said there had been eight fatal police shootings this year. Dunn later corrected that number to five.]
— Kate Mather in Los Angeles and Nicole Santa-Cruz in Anaheim
Photo: Notes, flower and candles make up a memorial outside an Anaheim apartment complex for 25-year-old Manuel Diaz, who was shot and killed by police Saturday. Credit: Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times