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La Habra Police Kill Suspect, 22

Crime: The man, identified only by distraught family members at the scene, was said to have fled an ATM with a shotgun as an officer approached.

July 16, 2001|DAVE McKIBBEN and DAVID REYES | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

A shotgun-toting man, who ran from an automated-teller machine after a La Habra police officer approached him Sunday, was shot dead by the officer after a wild chase through a residential neighborhood, police said.

Family members identified the dead man as Michael Duarte, 22, of Riverside and said he had been scheduled to attend his 1-year-old daughter's birthday party in Chino that day.

Police would not confirm the family's identification of the man nor identify the officer.

They said the officer approached a man about 11:45 a.m. in a rear parking lot of a Bank of America on East 1st Street. Police did not say why the officer initially walked up to the man but said he then noticed that the man was holding a shotgun.

"The suspect ran, and our officer ran after him," Lt. Steven Costanzo said.

As the man ran into a residential area, the officer called for backup, police said. The suspect was killed by the officer in the middle of the street in the 300 block of East 2nd Street, police said.

The officer was still being questioned by police detectives late Sunday afternoon.

Costanzo said the district attorney's office was contacted and its investigators were on the scene as a routine consequence of an officer-involved shooting.

"We do know the shooting occurred in the street, but we don't know all the details yet," he said.

The shooting occurred half an hour before a man was found shot to death in what police said was an unrelated homicide several blocks away. Both events overwhelmed the police force, which usually has only five or six officers on Sunday duty.

During the chase, one police car slammed into a telephone pole on 1st and South Aldrich streets. As the young man's body lay covered on the street, a large gun nearby, about 100 people gathered at 2nd and Cypress streets, comparing accounts of the killing. Several residents said they heard more than 10 shots fired by police, and angrily questioned the need for such firepower.

Two women who said they were relatives of Duarte's ran through the intersection and began crying, then shouting at police.

After some angry residents challenged the police version of events, officers from Fullerton and Buena Park were called to help keep order and defuse tension.

Marcia Garcia, who lives close to the shooting site, said she heard four or five gunshots, then looked out her living room window to see Duarte running from a La Habra policeman. As she led her children out of the room, she heard a few more shots fired. When she returned, she saw "four policemen surround him, and then one bent down and touched his neck to see if he was alive." Garcia said she had seen police questioning Duarte, who she knew by name, two months earlier.

Stunned and angry family members were called to the scene by neighbors and other relatives. Tina Duarte, 30, Michael's sister, informed their mother by cell phone while she looked at her brother's covered body.

Arty Duarte, 31, said his brother had been arrested for gang-related activities before he moved to Riverside six years ago. He declined to provide specifics.

Yolanda and Edward Duarte, Michael's aunt and uncle, said he had told them as recently as last week that he feared police were after him.

"They didn't like him," Yolanda Duarte said.

Duarte's body lay on the street for several hours, while neighbors and police officers milled about, uneasily eyeing each other. About three hours after the shooting, his wife, Nicole, arrived and shouted at officers, "You pigs killed him!"

Police did not respond.

Duarte's cousin Leah Hanway said there is tension between police and residents in the neighborhood where Duarte was shot. "It's very frustrating," Hanway said. "They're constantly harassing the teenagers."

Others who grew up in the area say it is turning around after years of gang violence.

"Stuff like this doesn't happen around here," said Rick Garcia, who knew Duarte's family. "It's been getting cleaned up."

Arty Duarte said his brother had been working part time with their father for a moving company.

Lorraine Charlotte, another cousin, was upset that Duarte's body was still on the ground four hours after he had been shot.

Sunday's incident was La Habra's third officer-related shooting in the last five years.

Times staff photographer Don Bartletti contributed to this story.

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