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Protest against police in Salinas turns violent

SALINAS, Calif. (AP) -- A police officer was injured when demonstrators protesting recent police shootings in Salinas attacked officers as they tried to assist a victim who had been shot in an unrelated incident, authorities said.

The officer was struck in the head with a bottle Wednesday night while performing CPR on the victim when protesters swarmed responding officers, some throwing rocks, bricks and bottles, Salinas Deputy Chief of Police Terry Gerhardstein said.

As the crowd swelled to as many as a thousand people, officers from other agencies were called to assist. Gerhardstein said the officers, some in riot gear, were able to push the protesters back from the crime scene.

Police shut down side streets, and the demonstration broke up several hours later, Gerhardstein said.

The injured officer did not suffer life-threatening injuries.

Police said Diego Garcia, 26, was arrested on suspicion of inciting a riot, resisting arrest and violating probation. Garcia taunted police, encouraged others to join him and took a fighting stance while challenging a group of officers, according to police.

The shooting victim, Constantino Garcia, 23, was pronounced dead at a hospital, police said. He was shot while standing on the sidewalk in front of his home. No one has been arrested in his death.

Gerhardstein said police do not think Diego Garcia and Constantino Garcia are related. He did not know whether Diego Garcia had a lawyer.

Protesters were rallying against the three fatal officer-involved shootings in Salinas this year and had gathered earlier in the day outside a bakery at an intersection where police shot and killed Carlos Mejia, 44, on Tuesday.

Salinas Police Chief Kelly McMillin said at a news conference Thursday that he's still investigating the shooting of Mejia, who was swinging garden shears but appeared to be walking away as officers followed him and then opened fire.

McMillin said that after he completes his internal investigation, he will send the report to the U.S. Department of Justice's civil rights division and the FBI for review.

The incident was recorded by witnesses' cellphones and by surveillance cameras, and some versions of the video have gone viral on YouTube.

McMillin said officers feared Mejia would enter a nearby bakery where he could endanger others.

“The officers were focused on what could happen if the man got away,” McMillin told KSBW-TV. “They were dead set against allowing him to get into the bakery. They were screaming at each other, `He can't get into the bakery.”'

Salinas is a farm community about 100 miles south of San Francisco. At least two of the people shot by police were of Hispanic origin, and some protesters said they were concerned that race was a factor.

“I never hear the day they kill a student or a white guy,” Rogelio Jacinto, a lifelong Salinas resident, told the Salinas Californian (http://bit.ly/1o9K7VB ).

Police asked residents to be patient until facts are known. They were set to discuss Tuesday's police-involved shooting at a news conference Thursday.

“We understand their frustrations, we understand they want answers to their questions, but there is an investigative process that has to take place,” Gerhardstein said.

The man killed by police Tuesday was shot after he began swinging gardening shears. Police responded to a report that he had entered a home and made threats.

Earlier in the month, police shot and killed Osman Hernandez, 26, after they said he grabbed a knife in his waistband while officers were trying to handcuff him. Police said they had used a stun gun on both men, but the tactic was not effective.

Hernandez's family has filed a $2 million wrongful death claim against the city, alleging officers were negligent and used excessive force.

The first officer-involved shooting in 2014 was in March. Officers shot and killed Angel Francisco Ruiz, 42, after he lifted his sweatshirt and flashed a handgun, police said.

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Information from: The Salinas Californian, http://www.californianonline.com

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