Family claims police abuse of authority following Morenci drive-by shooting

Photo Courtesy Devin Diaz: An officer can be seen pointing what appears to be a firearm at the suspect while he is handcuffed and facedown in the dirt in this still from a Ring doorbell video.

By Jon Johnson

MORENCI/CLIFTON – A Clifton family is questioning tactics employed by law enforcement while serving a search warrant after a drive-by shooting that occurred Saturday in Morenci. The actions allegedly include manhandling juveniles and pointing firearms at them while in custody and deploying a TASER into the family dog unnecessarily.

The juvenile suspect had a detention hearing in front of Greenlee County Superior Court Judge Jeremy O. Ford on Monday. Similar to a preliminary hearing for adult defendants, a detention hearing for juvenile defendants is held to determine if there is enough evidence to detain the defendant until further adjudication. Judge Ford determined there was probable cause to support the theory and the suspect was detained and transferred to a juvenile facility in Florence. The juvenile and family have proclaimed his innocence.  

The drive-by shooting reportedly took place on Saturday at a residence on Tamarisk Road just west of the football stadium.  

The suspect was taken into custody Sunday after the Greenlee County Sheriff’s Office performed a search warrant on his house in Clifton, in association with the Clifton Police Department. 

Devin and Kayla Diaz, siblings to the suspect, claim law enforcement personnel intentionally waited until only juveniles were in the residence to serve the search warrant. At the time of the search, the only people in the residence were the 16-year-old male suspect and two juvenile females ages 12 and 13.  

Kayla Diaz said a deputy was seen earlier in the day taking pictures of their home and when her mother went to question it the officer left without any contact. Later, after the mother went to work and two other adults left the premises, the search warrant was served. 

Some of the process was captured on the resident’s Ring doorbell camera, which appears to be affixed to the door as it swings open and close as officers move through. 

Gila Herald Video: Courtesy Devin Diaz

Devin and Kayla Diaz said their family was traumatized by the actions of the officers, including pointing what appears to be a shotgun at the juvenile’s head as he is handcuffed and shirtless wearing only basketball shorts and socks, and facedown on the ground. His 12-year-old sister was also in handcuffs and facedown on the ground next to him at the time. At one point in the video, the 12-year-old rolls over to see the barrel of the weapon and then quickly rolls back with her face staring at the ground. The 13-year-old female was also handcuffed and placed facedown in the dirt, but she is not seen on the video. One of the juvenile females complained of being physically manhandled by an officer and said she was grabbed by the back of the hair and thrown to the ground. The family advised that they have requested body camera footage from the responding officers.  

Devin Diaz was at work when the Ring doorbell camera alert went off multiple times. He then opened his app and couldn’t believe what he saw. 

“That doesn’t make any sense,” Devin told the Gila Herald. “That’s what really upset me . . . The first thing that I saw was my little sisters on the floor.” 

The Gila Herald has reached out to the Greenlee County Sheriff’s Office, Greenlee County Sheriff Tim Sumner, the Clifton Police Department, and the Greenlee County government for comment and clarification of the tactics and weapons used. No response came in a timely manner. 

Kayla was with her boyfriend, Alonso Martinez, when she arrived back at her home as the search warrant was being performed. She and Martinez were handcuffed and taken into custody at that point, with officers Mirandizing Martinez as they believed he might be a suspect in the drive-by shooting as well, according to Kayla and Martinez. Both were eventually released from custody.

Kayla attempted to video the proceedings with her cell phone upon her arrival but the video was cut short when she was handcuffed. She later told the Gila Herald that the video she took had been deleted but whoever did it couldn’t delete it from the “recently deleted” files – which requires a face unlock. Kayla said she was able to restore the video but was disturbed that the police would delete a video off her phone. “I had to get on here and hit recover to get my video back,” she said. 

Photo Courtesy Devin Diaz: The family’s dog, Buddy, is shown here running from an officer moments before he was hit with a TASER shot in this still from a Ring doorbell video.

Additionally, the family is questioning if it was necessary to TASER the family’s Golden Retriever “Buddy” during the search warrant. 

In the Ring camera video, Buddy can be heard barking at an officer off-camera and then is seen running away from the officer toward the door. An officer then appears and shoots his TASER into the dog.

Martinez said Buddy was feeling ill effects as the result of the TASER strike – including defecating and urinating on himself and whining.

The family has four other dogs at the residence, two puppies and two other Chichuauas, that they say were not accounted for by police. 

“They told my mom that we don’t have (any) dogs – only the big one that was being aggressive – the Golden Retriever,” Kayla said. 

Devin said he rummaged through items displaced in the search and located the two missing puppies but only one Chihuahua was found. 

“We still can’t find one,” Kayla said. “We don’t know what happened to it.”