Diosner Hidalgo crouched in the rain on Dahlia Lane in Frederick yesterday, before the pile of wet flowers, burned-out candles, a Salvadoran flag and a photo of Dany W. Rosales bearing the message "You Will Always Be in Our Hearts." Hidalgo still can't understand why his friend was shot to death Sept. 30 while running from two plainclothes police officers.
"They're not supposed to shoot that way," Hidalgo said, wearing a gold medallion etched with Rosales's picture. "They could have shot him in the leg, or in the air. I knew who he was. He would have stopped."
Police say he did stop, only to turn and point a realistic-looking BB gun at the two pursuing officers, Michael Weaver and James Martin, who drew their weapons and fired three times, hitting Rosales twice. Rosales, who turned 18 that day, died at the scene.
The fatal shooting, the first by Frederick police since 1997, has stunned the growing Latino community and caused police in the usually quiet city of 52,000 to confront the complexities of an area that is becoming more diverse and urban.
In recent years, the city's Hispanic population has tripled, from 847 residents in 1990 to more than 2,500 in 2000, census figures show. Police Chief Kim C. Dine said he is doing what he can to prepare his department to better serve a growing Hispanic population.
There are eight Spanish-speaking officers on the force of 150, and Dine, a veteran of the D.C. police department, has instituted training programs to teach officers how to deal with cultural differences and language barriers.
Lt. Tom Chase, head of investigations, said that Martin and Weaver had arrived at Hill Street Park to respond to a report of drug dealing. They encountered Rosales, saw him holding a beer and ordered him to pour it out. Rosales complied, they said.
The officers and Rosales parted, but a few minutes later, on their way out of the neighborhood, the officers saw Rosales, along with two other Hispanic youths, attacking a man on Dahlia Lane.
"The officers blew the horn on their vehicle, exited their vehicle and identified themselves as police officers," Chase said. "The assailants all ran. As they pursued them, they observed one of the assailants carrying a handgun. The officers ordered him to drop the handgun. As they continued their pursuit, they reached a distance of between five and 10 feet, and he turned toward them with the handgun, forcing them to utilize the force that they did."
Chase would not say where Rosales was struck. Police said they found in his hand an air-powered BB pistol designed to look like a real Walther PPK semiautomatic pistol. A medical examiner's report is pending. The two officers have been placed on administrative leave with pay, pending the outcome of an internal probe and a grand jury investigation.
In the hours after the shooting, Rosales's family and residents of the mostly Hispanic community near Hillcrest Elementary School angrily confronted police, demanding to look at the body, which police had covered with a tent. Friends of Rosales disputed the police account, saying that Rosales was shot from behind as he ran away. Others complained that police had hinted that Rosales might have been a gang member.
Dine said that police had not yet determined whether Rosales was in a gang and that the body had been covered to protect the scene.
One of the first things Dine did after he arrived on the scene shortly after the shooting was call Guy Djoken, president of the Frederick County branch of the NAACP.
Dine, Djoken, Rosales's family and members of Latino organizations held a "productive" private meeting Monday, Dine said.
Maritza Yeron, director of the Centro de Familia, an immigrant organization, said police were "doing the right thing" by talking with the family. "I know that emotions are high for the family at this point, but we have to wait out and see what's going to happen," she said.
Mario Rosales, Dany's uncle, said the family has hired a lawyer and is waiting for the outcome of the official investigation. Rosales's parents and more than 100 friends attended his funeral Friday, mourning his death with speeches and Roman Catholic ritual.
"Nobody's mad at them," Hidalgo said of the police. "We just need answers."