HAMMOND — An alleged Latin Dragons gang member pleaded not guilty at his arraignment Tuesday to allegations he fatally shot a Hammond man Sept. 30.
A federal grand jury has indicted Manuel "Smiley" Diaz, 26, of Hammond, on a charge of murder in aid of racketeering, alleging he killed Charles Berrios Sr., 50, "for the purpose of gaining entrance to and maintaining or increasing position in the (Latin Dragon Nation gang)."
The grand jury alleged Diaz intentionally killed Berrios and acted with reckless disregard for human life, court records show.
Diaz is accused of firing a single shot from his revolver Sept. 30 at a moving vehicle and killing the driver, Berrios, after a brief confrontation at a gas station between Diaz and another individual.
Berrios was reportedly not the initial 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 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 semiautomatic weapon, records show.
After they left the lot, Diaz pursued the SUV, but a third car, driven by Berrios and traveling with the SUV, refused to allow Diaz’s vehicle to pass, records show.
Berrios stayed at a stop sign at Howard Avenue to place space between Diaz's vehicle and the SUV, records show.
When he finally proceeded through the intersection, a witness with Berrios said he looked back to see Diaz point a chrome revolver at their vehicle, records show.
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 homicide, 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.
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