More than 3,000 law enforcement officers, family members, friends and community residents packed the grounds of St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church in La Quinta on Monday to honor the memory of Riverside County Sheriff’s Deputy Bruce Lee, who was killed last week while responding to a domestic violence call.
“He gave up his tomorrows so we can have safer todays,” state Atty. Gen. Bill Lockyer told mourners during a 90-minute service. “Bruce’s service and sacrifice will never be forgotten.”
Lee, a 22-year Sheriff’s Department veteran who would have turned 46 on Monday, was killed May 13 during a confrontation with 24-year-old Kevin Diabo.
Lee responded to a 911 call made by Diabo’s mother in La Quinta, and when the deputy arrived he was attacked by the suspect. During the struggle, Diabo grabbed Lee’s baton and struck the deputy’s head, knocking him out, then beat Lee to death. Diabo was shot and killed minutes later by a backup deputy.
“Bruce’s death serves as a reminder that we are at war with those in our community who victimize our citizens,” Riverside County Sheriff Bob Doyle said during the service. “Bruce was a soldier for our cause, and a hero.”
Lee’s wife, Patsy, was accompanied by several family members, including Lee’s parents, Joseph and Ramona.
An estimated 2,000 law enforcement officers attended the service in the small desert city just east of Palm Springs, said Shelley Kennedy-Smith, spokeswoman for the Sheriff’s Department. The crowd filled two large overflow seating areas outside the church, which were surrounded by a sea of police cars and motorcycles from police agencies as far away as Mammoth Lakes.
With Riverside County sheriff’s officers saluting in 90-degree morning heat, a white hearse brought Lee’s flag-draped casket to the front of the Mission-style church. Eight pallbearers carried the casket up eight steps, walking past Doyle and other somber-faced officers.
“This is a very, very difficult situation for us, and it seems to get more difficult and emotional each day,” said John Kaiser, a department spokesman in the sheriff’s Indio station, where Lee was based. “Bruce was very devoted to his job, a team player above and beyond what’s usual.”
The Rev. Jack D. Barker, speaking through tears, spoke of Lee’s love for police work.
“Authentic love costs, and it is a choice,” Barker said. “It cost Bruce, Patsy, all of his friends, the cities of Coachella and La Quinta, the county of Riverside, the state and our nation. Yet, Bruce made a choice ... to love.”
Doyle, who at one time served as Lee’s sergeant in Indio, said Lee might have appeared unassuming, but he was a strong, reliable, versatile deputy who will be remembered for his “kindness, compassion, professionalism and dignity.”
“Bruce gave of his time, his family and his friends for his community,” Doyle said. “Bruce accepted the risk and the responsibility. He gave the ultimate sacrifice: his life.”
Lee’s name will be added to peace officer memorials in Washington, D.C., and Sacramento, and his portrait will be placed in the Riverside County Sheriff’s Hall of Heroes, Kennedy-Smith said.
Sheriff’s Capt. John Horton spoke of Lee’s infectious smile and enthusiasm for the job, noting that Lee bypassed promotions because he enjoyed being a deputy.
Lee’s attraction to law enforcement was sparked in 1968, when, as an 11-year-old, he watched an Inglewood police officer arrest a man for stealing a car and attempting to steal gasoline from Lee’s father’s service station, Horton said. Years later, Lee was partnered in Indio with the Inglewood policeman’s son, Michael Manning.
“Bruce became a perfect model for every new deputy,” Horton said.
Lee’s close friend Ron Henderson delivered the eulogy. Lee was “star-struck” by his love of Patsy, whom he married nine years ago, he said.
“Patsy, may God lay a strong hand on you,” Henderson said. “Thank you for sharing Bruce with everyone. Bruce, happy birthday. We love you and miss you.”