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Latino leaders say Anaheim a 'powder keg' after police shootings

July 24, 2012 | 10:06 am

Several leaders in Anaheim's Latino community are calling for increased scrutiny — including an FBI investigation — of a police shooting Saturday that left one man dead and has since roiled the Orange County city.

The death of 25-year-old Manuel Angel Diaz was the first of two fatal officer-involved shootings over the weekend. The man killed Sunday was identified as 21-year-old Joel Mathew Acevedo.

Tensions remain high in Diaz's neighborhood, where many people are critical of officers' conduct right after the Saturday shooting, when police used pepper balls to disperse an angry crowd of about 100 who  threw bottles and rocks at officers. In addition, a police dog was accidentally released into the group.

Two officers have been placed on administrative leave, and Mayor Tom Tait on Monday asked for an independent probe by the state attorney general and the U.S. attorney's office.

The state's League of United Latin American Citizens has requested the FBI also look into Diaz's death and events that followed, the organization announced Tuesday.

"We feel there are unanswered issues," league director Benny Diaz, who is no relation to the victim, told The Times. "We feel this is very important to conduct a thorough and effective investigation of the whole police force in Anaheim."

Diaz said the group will also ask the U.S. Department of Justice's Community Relations Service to facilitate meetings between the community and city officials in an effort to improve what he described as a growing distrust of police — something he said results from incidents like Diaz's death.

"It's happened so many times already; it's happening in other cities," he said. "This would really open an opportunity to find a real, true solution."

Amin David, past president of the organization Los Amigos of Orange County, said the community is "facing a wall in dialogue with the police department," which is why his group plans to ask the Orange County district attorney's office to expedite its own investigation "to release the tensions and frustrations of the community."

"We don't know what happened, why he was killed," he said of Diaz. "They should have these answers. All they know is what the papers have said: He was killed because he ran away."

Seferino Garcia, executive director of Solevar, an Anaheim community group, said he has met with the mayor about the incidents, but an independent inquiry wasn't enough.

"I told him we've got to take a step further," he said. "We need to do more than that."

Garcia suggested town hall meetings with community members and the formation of a civilian police review board as initial steps toward alleviating tensions within the city, which he said was "up in arms."

"They've seen everything on TV — the dogs, the shootings and just a history of brutality," he said. "Right now, the community is not going to stand idle. We have a job to do."

"It's like a powder keg," he continued. "They're ready to explode, and it's going to get worse."


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Photo: Genevieve Huizar mourns the loss of her son, Manuel Diaz, with family and friends on Monday near the scene where the 25-year-old was killed by police. Credit: Patrick T. Fallon / Los Angeles Times