Riverside County Superior Court judge imposes sentence on gun battle case

■ Chronicle News Staff

In February, a Murrieta jury convicted Rafael Rodriguez Diaz, 30 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. According to court records, Diaz had prior convictions for criminal street gang activity, burglary and vandalism to a power or telephone line.
Diaz was sentenced on Friday to 54 years in state prison.
According to the prosecutor, Deputy District Attorney Scott Mason, Diaz had several issues with the law in August 2013. In the afternoon of August 6 on Palm Avenue, in Valle Vista, a Sheriff’s Deputy spotted the felon driving a 1986 Honda Accord and recognized him as a wanted parolee at large. Diaz jumped out of the Honda and bolted into the backyard of a mobile home, jumping a fence and concealing himself out of sight before the Deputy could catch him. A .32 caliber revolver was located in the automobile.
As fate would have it, on the afternoon of Aug 19, the same deputy was patrolling on Acacia Avenue and Columbia Street in East Hemet when he spotted at a stop sign a gold colored Honda Accord and recognized Diaz as the man who had fled from him, signaling for him to pull over, according to Mason. Instead Diaz floored the vehicle eastbound on Florida Avenue at 60 mph. “making erratic turns and driving at the dangerous speed of 50 mph.”
The defendant headed north on Winchester Avenue and then steered westbound onto state Route 74, leaving the highway onto a dirt road where his vehicle became stuck at which time he surrendered, according to Mason.
Diaz was booked into jail spending several weeks there 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.
On Jan 27, 2014, Officer Dean Benjamin while patrolling close to the Devonshire Avenue and Mayflower Street intersection noticed a Honda Civic cruising through the area, checked the plate and confirmed that the vehicle had been recently stolen and signaled to the driver Diaz to stop but instead he sped away 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 manage a curve near Palm and Johnston avenues and Officer Benjamin approached the car not knowing if the man was injured.
“Office 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 shot twice at the officer who ran for cover firing four rounds at the Honda, according to the prosecutor. Two backup officers reached the scene and emptied their semiautomatic pistols on the vehicle.
Diaz surrendered after a 14 minute standoff. He suffered gunshot wounds to the right shoulder and left forearm, according to the brief. No policeman was injured and a .357 Magnum was taken from inside the car, according to Mason.

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