Man Shot By San Jose Police Officer Says $11 Million Damage Award is 'Fair Verdict' - NBC Bay Area
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Man Shot By San Jose Police Officer Says $11 Million Damage Award is 'Fair Verdict'

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    A jury on Monday awarded $11 million to a man paralyzed last year in a shooting by a San Jose police officer, according to court filings. Robert Handa reports. (Published Tuesday, Dec. 22, 2015)

    A man who was paralyzed from the waist down when a San Jose police officer shot him in the back last year said Tuesday that he's grateful that a jury has awarded him $11 million in damages but his life has been changed forever.

    Hung Lam, a 38-year-old Vietnamese-American, said, "I feel that it was a fair verdict for me. I'm very happy and thank the jury for giving me fairness."

    Attorney John Burris told reporters that Lam, who uses a wheelchair, said, "My life has completely changed now because I can't do things by myself such as cook or drive."

    Burris said that after a three-week trial a jury in federal court in San Jose on Monday awarded Lam $8 million in economic damages and $3 million in emotional damages for a Jan. 3, 2014, incident in which he was shot by Officer Dondi West, a 20-year veteran who still works for the San Jose Police Department.

    Police Chief Larry Esquivel called West an outstanding officer in a statement issued Tuesday evening, and said she would continue to work with the department while the city attorney's office researches the appeal process.

    The suit named the city of San Jose, Esquivel and West as defendants but Burris said the city will pay all the damages if they're upheld by U.S. District Court Judge Paul Singh Grewal, who presided over the case.

    Police said Lam, who immigrated to the U.S. in 2010 and worked at and owned restaurants in San Francisco and Sacramento, was a suspect in an argument between two men and had advanced on the officer with a knife in the 1800 block of Cape Horn Drive but Burris said Lam was suicidal because of a tiff with his boyfriend and was merely talking to his neighbor, a retired deputy sheriff who was trying to help him.

    Police were called at 3:23 p.m. on Jan. 3, 2014, because Lam had been threatening to hurt himself, holding a knife to his abdomen with one hand and a cellphone in the other.

    Burris said Lam wasn't threatening anyone except possibly himself and alleged that West escalated the situation by walking up to him and confronting him.

    Burris said there was "a factual dispute" during the trial about whether Lam moved toward West but he doesn't think that was the case.

    The attorney said he thinks Lam's actions were all targeted toward his boyfriend and he was simply being dramatic by threatening to hurt himself and trying to make his boyfriend feel bad about it.

    Burris said West fired her gun at Lam twice, hitting him once in the back.

    San Jose police spokesman Capt. Enrique Garcia declined to comment on the jury's verdict, referring questions to the city attorney's office.

    City of San Jose spokesman David Vossbrink said the city will evaluate its options "very carefully" because the jury award is "a significant amount" and is twice as large as previous judgments against the city involving alleged police misconduct.

    Vossbrink said, "We'll take a close look at police procedures and legal strategies so we can find ways to reduce risks to the city in the future at the same time that we serve and protect our citizens."

    Lam, who spoke in Vietnamese and had his comments translated by his sister, Kathy Lam, who helps take care of him now, said, "The most difficult thing for me is that I wont' be able to walk again the rest of my life and I'm not able to control my bladder."

    Lam said he had "a very happy life" before he was shot.

    "I had a very happy life. I got to travel and had a good relationship with my boyfriend and my family always supported me," he said.

    Burris said Lam's boyfriend reunited with Lam after the shooting and is helping take care of him.

    Burris said Lam has had to have more than 10 medical procedures since he was shot and is permanently disabled but the goal is for him to be self sufficient to some extent so he can drive, work in the restaurant business again and have his own apartment with attendant care.

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