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Felon who tried to shoot a Hemet police officer sentenced

 

Last updated 8/31/2018 at 3:44pm

MURRIETA - A parolee who tried to shoot a Hemet police officer at the end of a chase, only a few months after he led law enforcement officers on a miles-long pursuit in the same area, was sentenced today to 54 years in state prison.

A Murrieta jury in February convicted 30-year-old Rafael Rodriguez Diaz of attempted murder of a peace officer, assault on a peace officer, two counts each of being a convicted felon in possession of a firearm and felony evading, resisting arrest and sentence-enhancing allegations of committing a crime while on bail and use of a firearm during a felony.

Riverside County Superior Court Judge Elaine Kiefer imposed the sentence required by law.

According to the prosecution, Diaz had several run-ins with law enforcement agencies in August 2013, the first occurring on the afternoon of Aug. 6 in the 44600 block of Palm Avenue, in the unincorporated community of Valle Vista, just east of Hemet.

A sheriff's deputy spotted the felon at the wheel of a 1986 Honda Accord and recognized him as a wanted parolee at large, according to a trial brief filed by Deputy District Attorney Scott Mason.

The deputy confronted Diaz as he exited the Honda, and the defendant bolted into the backyard of a mobile home, jumping a fence and ducking out of sight before the lawman could catch him, the brief stated. A .32-caliber revolver was found on the floorboard of the sedan.

On the afternoon of Aug. 19, the same deputy was patrolling the area of Acacia Avenue and Columbia Street in East Hemet when he spotted a gold Honda Accord at a stop sign and recognized the driver, Diaz, as the man who had run from him. Mason said the deputy signaled the ex-con to pull over, but he floored it instead, heading eastbound on Florida Avenue at 60 mph.

According to the prosecutor's brief, Diaz plowed through multiple stop lights and signs, traveling into residential areas, "making erratic turns and driving at the dangerous speed of 50 mph.''

Hemet police officers joined the pursuit, remaining on the defendant's tail as he went north on Winchester Avenue before steering onto westbound state Route 74. He left the highway after a short period, going onto a dirt road, where his vehicle became stuck, at which point he surrendered, Mason said.

"The pursuit lasted 21 minutes, covered 18 miles and reached speeds of 85 mph,'' the prosecutor said.

Inside the Honda, officers seized a box of ammunition but no gun.

Diaz was booked into jail, where he spent several weeks before posting bail. When he failed to appear for an Oct. 15 hearing at the Southwest Justice Center, a warrant was issued for his arrest.

About 2:30 a.m. Jan. 27, 2014, Hemet police Officer Dean Benjamin was patrolling near the intersection of Devonshire Avenue and Mayflower Street when he noticed a Honda Civic cruising slowly through the area, prompting the officer to check the plate and confirm that the vehicle had recently been

reported stolen, according to the prosecution.

Benjamin signaled the driver, Diaz, to stop, but he sped away westbound on Yale Street.

"The defendant drove through several controlled intersections at speeds between 70 and 100 mph,'' Mason said. "The defendant blew through at least 11 stop signs and several red lights.''

Diaz crashed after failing to negotiate a curve near Palm and Johnston avenues, and Benjamin approached the Honda, unsure whether the man was injured.

"Officer Benjamin saw the defendant pull up a silver handgun and point it directly at him,'' Mason said. "Benjamin saw down the barrel. He quickly reacted by shifting his body and drawing his own firearm as the defendant shot.''

Diaz discharged two rounds at the lawman, who scrambled for cover, firing four rounds at the Honda, according to the prosecutor.

Two backup officers reached the scene when the gunfire was exchanged, and they emptied their semiautomatic pistols on the vehicle, mostly striking the rear compartment, Mason said.

After a 14-minute standoff, Diaz surrendered. He suffered gunshot wounds to the right shoulder and left forearm, according to the brief.

The officers were not injured.

A .357 Magnum was seized from inside the car, Mason said.

According to court records, Diaz had prior convictions for criminal street gang activity, burglary, and vandalism to a power or telephone line.

 

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