By Amy Taxin
ANAHEIM, Calif. — Police have stepped up patrol in preparation for more protests after two deadly officer-involved shootings over the weekend, including the shooting of an unarmed man that sparked fiery clashes just a few miles up the road from Disneyland.
A Tuesday afternoon demonstration was planned in front of City Hall by residents who question what made officers resort to deadly force and crack down on demonstrators by firing pepper-spray projectiles and bean bag rounds.
The killings take the tally of officer-involved shootings to six so far this year, up from four a year before, said police Sgt. Bob Dunn. Five of the incidents this year have been fatal.
"It concerns me when we have any officer-involved shooting," said Police Chief John Welter, adding that he believes an uptick in gang-related crime in the last eight to 10 months is driving the increase.
"There just seems to be a lot more violence between the gangs. As a result, we've increased our gang unit, which has increased our contact with gang members," he said.
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.
In the largely Hispanic, working-class neighborhood where 25-year-old Manuel Diaz was killed Saturday afternoon, residents left candles, flowers and posters blasting police and questioned why officers would shoot a man they said was a gang member but didn't have a gun or appear to be committing a crime.
Jose Gallardo, 30, said he was chatting with Diaz in an alley behind the complex Saturday afternoon just a few minutes before he saw an unmarked police car pull up carrying two officers. Gallardo said he stayed away to avoid drawing attention from police until he heard two shots and went running.
"He was laying there, dead," Gallardo said, adding that he saw bullet marks in his friend's lower back and neck. "They were searching him - I was like, why are you searching him? He's dead right there."
The death sparked three nights of protests. On Saturday, angry demonstrators hurled rocks and bottles at officers who were securing the scene for investigators, and police responded by firing bean bags and pepper balls at the crowd.
The next morning, protesters swarmed police headquarters where the Welter held a news conference. Later that night, demonstrators set fire to a trash bin and pushed it into the street outside the apartment complex, which was still strewn with litter from the unrest.
On Monday night, Diaz's mother was joined by the relatives of others killed in police shootings in a march near where her son was shot. Meanwhile, police said trash bins were set on fire near the area where Sunday's officer-involved killing took place.
Welter said Saturday's shooting occurred after two officers approached three men who were acting suspiciously in an alleyway before running away. One of the officers chased Diaz to the front of the apartment complex.
The chief would not say what exactly led the officer to shoot Diaz, who authorities say was a known gang member. But Diaz wasn't just hanging out in the alley. He failed to heed police 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.
The second officer-involved shooting occurred Sunday when anti-gang officers spotted a suspected gang member in a stolen sport utility vehicle. A brief pursuit ended when three people jumped from the SUV and ran, authorities said.
During the chase, a suspect fired one or two rounds at an officer. The officer returned fire, killing the gunman, who was identified as 21-year-old Joel Mathew Acevedo, Dunn 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.
Mayor Tom Tait said Monday he has asked the state attorney general's office and the U.S. attorney's office to aid an independent investigation.
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Copyright 2012 Associated Press