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Police, protesters clash as tensions roil Anaheim

As street melees erupt, council votes to seek federal probe of killings by officers.

July 25, 2012|By Ruben Vives, Nicole Santa Cruz and Richard Winton, Los Angeles Times

Simmering tensions in the wake of two deadly police shootings in Anaheim exploded into violence Tuesday night as protesters clashed with police outside City Hall even as officials voted to ask federal authorities to investigate the killings that have rocked the Orange County community.

Protesters hurled rocks, traffic cones and other objects at police clad in riot gear as officers chased people along sidewalks and streets throughout the evening and fired less-than-lethal projectiles into crowds after giving a dispersal order. Sirens wailed as officers formed skirmish lines and police from neighboring law enforcement agencies provided assistance.

Police said that at least five people were arrested on suspicion of assault and resisting arrest, and that a reporter from the Orange County Register was struck by a rock as angry crowds stood face to face with officers in tense standoffs. Fires were started in dumpsters, and at least one storefront had its windows broken as the skirmishes continued into the night.

PHOTOS: Protests against Anaheim police shootings

The chaotic scene marked the fourth day of protests since officers shot two men to death over the weekend, outraging residents concerned about police conduct in Anaheim's heavily Latino core.

Joel Mathew Acevedo was shot and killed after he fired at an officer Sunday night. A day earlier, Manuel Angel Diaz was killed after running from police on Anaheim's east side. Five people have died in police shootings in the city this year.

On Tuesday, Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait called for both state and federal investigations, in addition to an ongoing probe by the Orange County district attorney's office. The FBI announced Tuesday it would review Diaz's shooting to see whether it warranted a civil rights investigation.

At the City Council meeting, people surrounded the council chamber to speak out about the accusations of police brutality. Many were turned away from the packed chamber.

The council voted to ask the U.S. attorney's office to launch a probe.

"To the people in the city that are troubled about what happened," Tait said at the meeting, "I'd like to tell you that I am committed to keeping the lines of communication open and to keep the process completely transparent."

Outside, crowds faced off against police at two locations. At South Anaheim Boulevard and West Midway Drive, more than a mile from City Hall, a hostile crowd shouted profanity at officers. Some rocks were thrown.

At Anaheim and Broadway near City Hall, protesters threw bricks, bottles and shoes at officers. One man in a blue jersey was tackled and carried away by police. Others lit firecrackers as people gathered by a gas station and chanted "Si se puede," or "Yes we can."

Shortly before 9 p.m., police at the intersection declared an unlawful assembly and ordered the crowds to disperse.

"If not," an officer shouted through a megaphone, "you will be arrested."

Minutes later, officers fired the projectiles into the crowd as people fled down the streets.

PHOTOS: Protests against Anaheim police shootings

Earlier Tuesday, attorneys for Diaz's mother filed a civil-rights and wrongful-death lawsuit in federal court. The suit, which seeks $50 million in damages, alleges that her unarmed son was shot from behind and then, when he fell to his knees, was shot in the back of the head.

Responding to the litigation, the Anaheim Police Assn. provided the first explanation from the five-year officer who shot Diaz on Saturday afternoon.

According to the police union, officers saw "the documented gang member" who was holding a "concealed object in his front waistband with both hands." Diaz then took off running, only to pull the object from his waistband and turn toward the officers.

"Feeling that Diaz was drawing a weapon, the officer opened fire on Diaz to stop the threat," said Kerry Condon, the association's president.

Officers reported that Diaz tossed away items as he ran, but no gun has been recovered.

Diaz's mother called for residents to refrain from violent protest.

"This is wrong and needs to stop on both sides," Genevieve Huizar said as she sobbed and clutched photos of her son Tuesday afternoon near a memorial on the fence next to where Diaz died.

Latino activists have met with the mayor and encouraged the city to institute a civilian police review board.

"They've seen everything on TV— the dogs, the shootings and just a history of brutality," said Seferino Garcia, executive director of Solevar, an Anaheim community group. "Right now, the community is not going to stand idle. We have a job to do."

Anaheim resident Oscar Velazquez, 25, said Latinos are harassed by police and recounted recently being patted down while walking to his home, a few blocks from Disneyland.

"I've been stopped for no reason," he said. "You don't want your neighbors to see you out there like that."

PHOTOS: Protests against Anaheim police shootings

ruben.vives@latimes.com

nicole.santacruz@latimes.com

richard.winton@latimes.com

Times staff writers Christine Mai-Duc and Robert J. Lopez contributed to this report.

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