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Victim's Wife Relives Shooting

September 10, 1988|STEVE EMMONS | Times Staff Writer

Marlene Bryant returned to the beach Friday, to the spot where five days earlier her husband had been mistakenly shot and critically wounded by Newport Beach police, and the memories of that hot and violent night came pouring out.

She remembered hearing the officer--who only seconds earlier had felled her husband with a shotgun blast--expressing disbelief that the man was unarmed.

"I don't see a gun here," the officer's partner told him, according to Bryant. "There is a gun! I saw it," the officer insisted. "I don't see one," his partner replied. "All I see is a stereo."

She remembered the 14-year-old boy whose realistic toy gun had alarmed beach-goers and prompted police to draw their weapons in search of a reported armed man on the beach at about 3 a.m. last Sunday.

Bryant said she was handcuffed after the shooting and seated beside the boy. She said he asked the officer who had fired the shot: "Am I the cause of this? Am I going to be blamed for this?"

"Shut up," Bryant said the officer replied. "Haven't you caused enough trouble? See what you made me do."

The boy became "very, very quiet," Bryant said.

A police spokesman Friday said the boy had good reason for pause. He said that the officer who shot Bryant's husband, Sundaga Bryant, made a split-second decision to fire when the man turned toward him with what the officer perceived to be a sawed-off shotgun held at waist level. It turned out to be a portable stereo on a shoulder strap.

If the boy, or any of his three friends who also had realistic toy guns, had done the same when confronted by police, the result probably would have been the same, the spokesman said.

"If they had had the guns in their hands and had turned towards the officers, the officers would have fired. That's what they're trained to do," said Officer Bob Oakley. "Put yourself in their position. It's a life-threatening situation."

The officer who fired the shot, Derek Duncan, has been transferred temporarily to administrative duty and is receiving psychological counseling. Duncan, 25, is a three-year veteran of the Newport Beach force who had also worked for a year as an Orange County sheriff's deputy.

Sundaga Bryant, a 26-year-old Liberian citizen who lives in Orange, remained in critical condition in the intensive care unit of Fountain Valley Regional Hospital on Friday after multiple surgeries to repair damage to his left arm, colon and stomach. Further operations are planned.

And Marlene Bryant was on the Balboa Peninsula, demonstrating her version of what had happened that night to her lawyer, to the Liberian consul-general from Los Angeles and to reporters.

Couldn't Find Party

She said that Saturday night, she and her husband headed for a housewarming in West Covina. They couldn't find the party and were returning to Orange County after midnight, looking for relief from the heat. Saturday's high temperatures had been in the 100s, and nighttime brought little relief, she said.

Bryant said her husband suggested going to the beach to "get some cool air." They stopped for some beer and wine cooler, went home to pack an ice chest, then set out for Balboa.

Bryant said they parked in the municipal lot to the west of the Balboa Pier. The time stamped on their parking lot stub shows they arrived at 1:47 a.m. Sunday, she said.

According to local ordinance, the beaches in Newport are closed after midnight. But it was a hot Labor Day weekend, and the area was still alive with people, Bryant said. There were perhaps 20 people on the beach that fronts the parking lot, and "the whole pier had a lot of people, like everybody had the same idea--to cool off."

Oakley said police normally run a 4-wheel-drive patrol car up and down the beach to clear it after midnight--if they can spare the time. He said he did not know whether anyone made the effort that night. "It was unusually crowded," he said.

Bryant said that she and her husband spread their blanket on the beach fronting the parking lot where the sand begins to slope steeply toward the surf. They were almost even with the western edge of the parking lot, about 500 feet west of the pier.

Bryant said the couple then went for a walk along the shoreline, he carrying his long, thin portable stereo by a strap from his left shoulder, she carrying a purse under her arm.

Oakley said that sometime during this period, several people on the beach approached a city employee and told him they had seen a man on the beach carrying a sawed-off shotgun. The employee called police shortly before 3 a.m., and the entire patrol force assigned to Balboa--six or seven officers--rushed to the scene. Oakley said they probably arrived more or less as a group at the parking lot and would have begun spreading out for a search. They were expecting to confront a well-armed man, he said.

Bryant said that when she and her husband returned to their blanket, she sat and her husband stood, his left side toward the approaching officers, his stereo still slung under his left arm.

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