Nearly three weeks after Josue Javier Diaz was fatally shot, family, friends and the public still don’t know the name of the undercover CMPD officer who killed him.
His death is the subject of conflicting accounts about what happened Jan. 26 when he was slain on Albemarle Road in east Charlotte.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police said Diaz, 28, fired a gun at the officer following a “road rage incident.” But a friend who said he witnessed the incident said Diaz was shot when he got out to apologize because his truck side-swiped the officer’s unmarked vehicle.
Since then, family members and activists have demanded CMPD release the name of the officer. The secrecy makes it impossible for them to check the officer’s work history, including information about suspensions and other instances of use of force, activists said.
An open government expert said if CMPD closes the case without revealing the name, it would mark the first time he could recall in a decade of work that a North Carolina law enforcement agency successfully shielded an officer’s identity following a fatal shooting.
Corine Mack, president of the local chapter of the NAACP, which is supporting Diaz’s family, called the lack of information “disturbing.”
CMPD typically releases the officer’s name, rank, years of service and other public information after shootings.
The department did not make officials available for interviews to answer why the Diaz case is being treated differently. So far, CMPD has only described the officer as a Hispanic male.
In a written statement, spokesman Rob Tufano said the officer’s name is being withheld because he works undercover. Tufano would not provide information about the officer’s work history, including suspensions, promotions or his exact salary, saying it could reveal his identity.
He would only divulge that the officer makes “roughly” $68,000 a year.
The California Supreme Court ruled in 2014 that police agencies must disclose the names of officers involved in on-duty shootings unless there is specific proof that the release would pose a safety risk.
But North Carolina law appears to grant police departments discretion about when to release names of undercover officers.
“When you have undercover officers, the protection of their anonymity is important,” said Joseph Kuhns, a criminal justice professor at UNC Charlotte. “I don’t see the value in compromising that. There are limitations to transparency.”
Police say the confrontation between Diaz and the undercover officer remains under investigation.
It started when a truck carrying Diaz and another person side-swiped the detective’s unmarked vehicle while it was stopped in traffic on Albemarle Road, a busy commercial strip.
Diaz, the driver, continued and the detective pulled behind the truck to follow, police said.
CMPD said Diaz stopped and got out of the truck with a handgun. Investigators recovered a .22-caliber revolver at the scene and identified a bullet hole and projectile in the unmarked vehicle the officer had been driving, the department said.
Family and friends of Diaz dispute that account.
Diaz’s friend Juan Jose Silverio, who said he was in the truck at the time of the shooting, has said that Diaz’s gun remained in the glove compartment the entire time.
Diaz “got out of the truck to talk to (the detective) but when he got out of his truck, the officer started to fire,” Silverio said.
Diaz had a Mecklenburg County purchase permit to buy a gun, records show. It’s unclear if he used the permit to buy a gun or if he later received a North Carolina concealed-carry permit.
Diaz’s death is the city’s first fatal police shooting since the death of Keith Lamont Scott on Sept. 20 in northeast Charlotte. The killing of the 43-year-old black man led to several days of protests and rioting, and added to the national debate about killings of minorities at the hands of police officers.
Mecklenburg County District Attorney Andrew Murray in November ruled Officer Brentley Vinson, who is black, was legally justified in shooting Scott.
Police Chief Kerr Putney promised more transparency from the department after enduring withering criticism locally and nationally for initially refusing to release video footage of the Scott shooting.
But the Diaz family, friends and activists say that CMPD has been secretive about Diaz’s death. At a community meeting two weeks ago, relatives complained to Mayor Jennifer Roberts.
They said it was unfair they haven’t been told the name of the officer who killed Diaz. One woman said relatives were insulted they did not learn that he had died until it was broadcast on television.
They allege that they have asked nearby businesses to provide them surveillance footage, but have been turned down by merchants who said they have been warned by police not to share information.
Hector Vaca, Charlotte director of Action NC, a social justice group, said city officials are working to ensure anger in the community doesn’t boil over, but they have provided scant information about what happened or who was involved.
Among the questions: Why did an undercover officer pursue Diaz so aggressively? Did the officer who was dressed in plain clothes identify himself as police?
Tufano, the CMPD spokesman, said detectives are still investigating the circumstances surrounding the shooting.
Jonathan Jones, director of the North Carolina Open Government Coalition, said CMPD could help its credibility by releasing the undercover officer’s name. A witness in the truck with Diaz likely saw the officer, meaning the officer’s identity is already known to someone, Jones said.
“For the sake of public trust,” Jones said, “it is advisable they operate in a transparent way when an officer makes the difficult decision to take someone’s life.”