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Grand jury decides not to indict former Orlando officer who shot and killed an unarmed 26-year-old man

By Kara Nelson, CNN

(CNN) — An Orange County, Florida, grand jury has decided not to charge a former Orlando police officer for the shooting of a 26-year-old last July.

After being presented “with all relevant evidence,” the grand jury decided not to charge former Orlando officer Jose Velez in the shooting that resulted in Derek Diaz’s death, according to a Monday news release from State Attorney Andrew Bain.

“A grand jury in Orange County did not believe charges against the officer were legally appropriate,” the release said.

The decision follows months of unanswered questions and advocacy from loved ones and community members.

“The community is in pain,” Lawanna Gelzer, an Orlando community activist, told CNN on Tuesday. “We cannot have officers think it’s OK to be judge, jury and executioner.”

The incident happened around 2 a.m. in downtown Orlando on July 3.

Bodycam footage released by the Orlando Police Department last year showed Diaz being shot within a minute of an officer approaching him.

In the footage, an officer can be seen walking towards the driver’s side of the car where Diaz was sitting.

After briefly speaking to Diaz, who appears to be complying, the officer opens the car door while telling Diaz to put his hands on the steering wheel. Diaz then reaches his right hand toward the vehicle’s center console before the officer fires what sounds like a single gunshot.

In a statement released with the body camera footage, police said Diaz tossed an object out of the window after he was shot “that was later identified as narcotics.”

Officers didn’t discover a gun or any other weapon in the car during their investigation, according to the police department.

Diaz was taken to the hospital shortly after the encounter, where he later died from his injuries.

In a news conference after the shooting, Orlando Police Chief Eric Smith said three officers were doing a “proactive patrol” at the time of the encounter with Diaz, in response to the downtown area being a “hotspot for criminal activity.”

“Probable cause was developed that the suspected driver was involved in drug activity,” Smith said.

“My heart goes out to the family because unfortunately another father is no longer going to be here to raise their child… because an officer made a decision within 42 seconds to end his life,” Gelzer, the community activist, said.

Velez was placed on paid administrative leave after the shooting. He later resigned from the department in November for reasons “not in relation to this incident,” according to a Tuesday statement from Orlando police. The statement did not offer any further details.

The Orlando Police Department Internal Affairs Unit will conduct a review of the case, and the police chief supports the grand jury’s decision, the police statement said.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigated the fatal incident and then turned the case over to the state attorney’s office. All Florida cases involving deadly use of force by law enforcement must “be presented to a grand jury to determine whether criminal charges are appropriate,” the state attorney’s news release said.

After Monday’s grand jury decision, the case was officially closed by the state attorney’s office.

CNN attempted to contact Velez and has reached out to an attorney representing Diaz’s family for a comment regarding the grand jury’s recent decision.

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