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Orange County

Group Protests Police Shooting Death

Anger: Family and friends of a man shot by La Habra officers call the fatality unnecessary. Authorities are silent as the probe proceeds.

July 18, 2001|DAVE McKIBBEN and KIMI YOSHINO | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

More than 30 family members and friends of a man fatally shot by police gathered Tuesday afternoon outside the La Habra Police Department, protesting what they say was an unnecessary shooting.

Michael Duarte, a 22-year-old Riverside man, was killed by police Sunday after he ran from them while carrying a gun.

Tina Lyburtus, Duarte's sister, marched in front of department headquarters for more than an hour, shouting angrily at passing motorists: "We want justice," "Get angry officers out of the field," and "How many shots does it take?"

Others carried signs saying "Who's next?" and "Who decides who is going to live or die?" while a few motorists honked their horns in support.

But the circumstances of Michael Duarte's shooting remained largely unknown Tuesday. Family members said they drew their conclusions based on comments from witnesses.

The only thing police will confirm is that Duarte was shot and killed after a two-block police chase that started at a Bank of America branch just before noon Sunday. It ended in the 300 block of East 2nd Avenue.

"It's an ongoing investigation," Police Lt. Steven Costanzo said. "This only happened a couple days ago and it's going to take awhile to get through it."

Police would not say whether Duarte fired the weapon he carried, nor would they reveal what prompted the chase, how many times Duarte was hit, or the names of the two police officers involved.

The Orange County district attorney's office--the agency charged with investigating officer-involved shootings in La Habra--also declined to release information.

Despite their protests, the Duarte family, many of whom live in La Habra, has acknowledged that Michael Duarte was a troubled young man who battled drug addiction and gang affiliations. They do not know why he was armed during the chase or why he would have fled from officers--but they cited his fear that he was the target of police harassment.

Although many of Duarte's family and friends have been highly critical of La Habra police, others in the neighborhood said they support police in the case.

Roger Dream-Bear, a youth counselor who works with gang members at a La Habra community center, said he does not sense that the community is outraged over Duarte's death.

"I did not find anyone who had anything negative to say about the Police Department," said Dream-Bear, a former gang member who has spoken with several members of the gang to which Duarte used to belong and residents of the neighborhood where the shooting occurred.

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