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Sheriff Says Slain Deputy Blameless

Riverside County officer killed in La Quinta was following procedure, his commander says.

May 15, 2003|Lance Pugmire | Times Staff Writer

A Riverside County sheriff's deputy who was attacked by an Indio man and then beaten to death with his own baton on Tuesday had followed correct procedures in responding to the volatile situation, a preliminary investigation has found.

Deputy Bruce Lee, 45, a 22-year veteran, was responding to a domestic violence call in La Quinta when he was attacked by Kevin Diabo, 24, outside a house.

"Bruce didn't do anything wrong," Riverside County Sheriff Bob Doyle said Wednesday. "We give our deputies a lot of discretion in these situations. They have to make decisions based on their assessment of the situation, and he didn't do anything outside of procedure. The investigation indicates that [Lee] made contact with [Diabo] and the guy went off on him. That's happened to all of us at least once in our career. Unfortunately in this case, it was a fatal."

After he was attacked, the deputy and Diabo apparently were locked in a hand-to-hand struggle, and the suspect was able to hit the deputy with a strong-enough blow to knock him out, Doyle said.

"Once Bruce was unconscious, Diabo took his baton and beat him on the head -- that's what the preliminary investigation indicates," Doyle said.

Doyle said it would be wrong to "Monday-morning quarterback" Lee's decision to approach Diabo so closely.

Diabo, who was shot dead by a Riverside County deputy minutes after his attack on Lee, has been described as mentally unstable and had a criminal record that includes misdemeanor battery and battery on a peace officer.

Diabo's mother made a 911 call Tuesday morning, reporting an unwanted visit by her son. Neighbors said Diabo lived somewhere in a canyon in the stark desert peaks above their homes. Diabo, neighbors said, had been spotted recently walking in full camouflage gear and frequently talking to himself.

"It sounds like Bruce made a service call, that he made initial contact with [Diabo], and then, boom!" Doyle said.

The second death of a Riverside County sheriff's deputy this year has shaken the department. Doyle said he knew Lee well, and had once served as Lee's sergeant and commander at the Indio sheriff's station.

"He was the ultimate professional, never one citizen's complaint about him," Doyle said. "He was quiet, unassuming, mature. His work was impeccable, and he did it all: training officer, courts, traffic. He took a lot of pride in being a peace officer."

Lee's public funeral is scheduled for 10 a.m. Monday at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church on Washington Street in La Quinta.

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