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Officer Duane Curtis "Duey" Johnson
(Dec. 10, 1957 Dec. 19, 1984)


Officer Duane "Duey" Johnson, 27, and his partner, Officer Archie Nagao, 29, probably thought it was a false alarm when they were sent to a small jewelry store during a heavy rainstorm in Chinatown on the afternoon of Wednesday, Dec. 19, 1984. They were responding to a silent burglar alarm at the store on Bamboo Lane, just west of North Broadway.

When Johnson and Nagao, who were on foot patrol and wearing yellow raincoats, arrived at the store shortly after 2 p.m., a man they naturally assumed was an employee opened the front door, which was usually kept locked. The owner of the store, Leon Lee, 73, didn't hire security guards, as other Chinatown jewelry stores had done. Instead, he kept his door locked, opening it only for potential customers based on their appearance.

Lee opened his business on Bamboo Lane in the 1940s, and sold jewelry, jade, coins, vases and bowls in the small store, which was crowded with glass display cases. His 38-year-old son, Robert, also worked at the store.

Shortly before the officers arrived at the store, two young men dressed in business suits showed up at the door, and Leon Lee let them in. The men initially expressed interest in buying gold coins, and Leon Lee went into a back room to bring out some coins to show them. When he returned, one of the men pulled out a gun and announced that the store was being robbed.

The two robbers opened the door for two more accomplices, and the group started to smash and ransack the jewelry cases, stuffing the merchandise into plastic grocery bags.

During the robbery, four customers came to the door of the shop. One of the robbers let them in, then ordered them into a back room, where they were held at gunpoint, along with a saleswoman. Leon and Robert Lee remained at the front of the store. When the customers came in and the robbers were briefly distracted, Leon Lee was able to press the hidden button for the silent alarm.

When Johnson and Nagao arrived, they were let into the store, not by an employee, but by one of the robbers. The officers looked around, saw Leon and Robert Lee, and a few people they assumed to be customers or employees. The officers were about to leave the store when Johnson asked Leon Lee if everything was all right. Lee was silent. Then he slowly shook his head, and quickly raised and lowered his hands, attempting to signal to the officers that he was being robbed.

Before Johnson and Nagao could react -- and they may have been slowed in attempting to draw their guns because of their heavy raincoats -- one of the robbers pulled out a gun and started shooting, and the others joined in, exchanging gunfire in the small store at essentially point-blank range.

Although Johnson was immediately hit in the head and neck, he was able to fire four shots at the robbers before he collapsed. Nagao, who was hit in the neck, emptied his six-shot revolver, reloaded, and fired five more shots. Leon Lee reached for his own gun and also shot at the robbers.

Nagao, with blood pouring from his neck wound and down his raincoat, staggered out into the heavy rain, warned bystanders to move away, and asked a food delivery truck driver to call police for back-up and medical help. Another passer-by brought a towel to wrap around Nagao's neck, and a nearby restaurant owner stood over the injured officer with an umbrella until an ambulance arrived.

Two robbers, including one injured by gunfire, escaped out the back door of the store. The other two died at the scene. Robert Lee was wounded, hit by a bullet in the chest fired by one of the fleeing robbers.

Johnson, who had been hit three times, was take to Los Angeles County -- USC Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead less than an hour later. Although Johnson was wearing body armor, the shots hit him in the unprotected head, neck and side. Robert Lee was taken to the same hospital. Nagao was taken to White Memorial Hospital, where he underwent surgery for his neck wound.

Police conducted a massive search of the area for the two escaped gunman, conducting a door-to-door search over 40 square-blocks.

Based on a rent receipt found on the body of one of the dead robbers, police found and arrested the two gunmen the following day. They were charged with three counts of murder in the deaths of Johnson and their two accomplices; two counts of attempted murder for the shootings of Nagao and Robert Lee, who both eventually recovered from their injuries; and one count of robbery.

Johnson was born Dec. 10, 1957, in Jamestown, N.Y., one of 10 children of Curtis Laverne and Norma Leona Hall Johnson. (Another child died in infancy in 1945.) Johnson's father was a firefighter for the Jamestown Fire Department for more than 30 years, retiring in 1985.

Johnson served in the Marine Corps, at the base in Twentynine Palms, California. Johnson came from a long family line of military and public service. His grandfather served during World War I, and his father served in the Navy during World War II, before returning home to become a firefighter. Among Johnson's siblings, his older brother, Steven, and step-brother, Sam, joined the Marines; while his twin brother, Dana, and sister, Pam, both served in the Navy.

After his discharge from the Marines, Johnson remained in Southern California, and joined the LAPD on Sept. 1, 1981 -- the same day his twin brother, Dana, joined the police department in Virginia Beach, Virginia. Their older brother, Steven, was a police officer in their hometown of Jamestown.

About a month before the shooting, Johnson had been assigned to the police substation in Chinatown, less than a block from the jewelry store. Nagao, a seven-year veteran of the department, had been working at the Chinatown substation since it opened in April 1983. Both officers were well-known in the community, with Johnson described as friendly and outgoing, and Nagao as quiet and unassuming.

Johnson married Kathleen Burger on Jan. 30, 1983, and the couple lived in La Habra. At the time of his death less than two years later, she was expecting their first child. At Johnson's funeral service, held at the First Evangelical Free Church in Fullerton, an LAPD chaplain quoted the officer as telling his wife, "I'm not sure I can give you 50 years, but the years I can give will be the best." Johnson was buried at Memory Garden Memorial Park in Brea.

Kathleen Johnson gave birth to a girl on March 27, 1985, less than three months after her husband was killed. Later that year, both Johnson and Nagao were among nine officers who were awarded the LAPD's Medal of Valor, the department's highest honor.

The two surviving jewelry store robbers were both convicted in separate trials. One was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole, and the other was sentenced to 38 years to life in prison. Both are still in prison.

After the sentencing for one of the jewelry store robbers, Nagao and the robber's lawyer had a bitter exchange in the the courtroom. "He's alive," Nagao said at the end of the discussion, and the lawyer responded, "So are you."

"But Duane isn't," Nagao said, before turning and walking out of the courtroom.

Johnson's twin brother retired from the Virginia Beach Police Department in 2011, after 30 years of service. Their older brother Steven retired from the Jamestown Police Department in 1988.

Johnson's sign is located on the east side of North Broadway, between College and Bernard streets, near the pedestrian crosswalk, and across the street from Bamboo Lane.



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