WASHINGTON — An alleged Latin Dragons street gang member has been charged with murder in aid of racketeering in connection with a Hammond man's fatal shooting Saturday, U.S. District court records show.
Manuel Diaz, 26, of Hammond, is accused of killing Charles Berrios Sr., 50, of Hammond, according to police and U.S. District court records.
The Chicago-area Latin Dragons gang has been trying to increase its street presence in Northwest Indiana in recent years, taking advantage of the void left by recent federal indictments of rival gangs such as the Latin Kings, Imperial Gangsters and the Two Six, according to a criminal complaint filed Tuesday.
Berrios was reportedly not the original intended target. According to court records, he was shot by Diaz while intervening and trying to place distance between Diaz's vehicle and the individual Diaz was targeting in another vehicle.
According to the allegations, Diaz engaged in a brief confrontation Saturday afternoon with a driver of an SUV at Luke's gas station at Indianapolis Boulevard and Carroll Street in Hammond, during which Diaz’s passenger flashed gang signs at the SUV's occupants.
The driver of the SUV displayed a semi-automatic weapon to Diaz, court records show.
After the SUV left the parking lot, Diaz left, too, and made an immediate U-turn to head southbound on Indianapolis Boulevard in pursuit of the SUV, court records show. A third car, driven by Berrios and traveling with the SUV, intervened and refused to allow Diaz’s vehicle to pass, the release said.
A witness traveling with Berrios said Diaz's Mercury followed them westbound on Michigan Street and attempted to pass them at every stop sign, court records show.
Berrios stayed at a stop sign at Howard Avenue for about one minute in an attempt to put some space between the Mercury and the SUV, records show.
When he finally proceeded through the intersection, a witness traveling with Berrios said he looked back at the Mercury to see Diaz point a chrome revolver at their vehicle.
The witness heard a single gunshot and was sprayed in the face with glass before turning to Berrios, who was slumped over in his seat, court records show.
Berrios was airlifted to Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, where he was pronounced dead.
Diaz denied shooting Berrios in an interview with police Sunday, but video surveillance shows his green Mercury Cougar, which has a unique red bumper, at the intersection, along with Berrios' vehicle.
Members of the gang under Latin Dragons rule are required as "to take immediate violent action against anyone who threatens them, and gain respect and status within the gang by doing so," the complaint said.
While police said it's unclear if the driver of the SUV is a "full-fledged gang member," the individual displayed a firearm in a threatening manner leading up to the murder, court records show.
"As a member of the Latin Dragons, once challenged or threatened in such a fashion, it would have been incumbent on Diaz to take action ... This murder, therefore, was committed ... for the purpose of maintaining or increasing in position in the Latin Dragons," investigators allege in the criminal complaint.