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.
Hung Lam, a 38-year-old Vietnamese-American, was holding a knife but only threatening to hurt himself when he was shot in the back by Officer Dondi West on Jan. 3, 2014, according to the complaint filed last year.
Police had said that the wounded man 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 Lam, represented by attorney John Burris, disputed that account, saying he was suicidal and talking to his neighbor, who was trying to help him.
After a three-week trial, a jury in federal court in San Jose ruled in favor of Lam.
Police were called at 3:23 p.m. because Lam had been threatening to hurt himself, holding a knife to his abdomen with one hand and a cellphone in the other. His neighbor was trying to talk him out of hurting himself when police arrived, according to the complaint.
As soon as West arrived, she started running toward Lam screaming commands like "drop the knife" and "get on the ground" but Lam was still talking to his neighbor and not facing the officer.
When she reached within 10-15 feet of Lam, she shot him twice in the back, hitting his aorta, lungs and kidney. He was rushed to a hospital and survived due to surgery but was left with no mobility in his legs.
Lam, once a vibrant dancer, was left permanently disabled, according to the complaint.
He was initially charged with assault on a police officer but those charges were dismissed by the time the federal lawsuit was filed in February, according to the complaint.
"The officer's outrageous display of excessive force sentenced Hung Lam to a lifetime in a wheelchair, as a paraplegic," Burris said in a statement.
San Jose Police Chief Larry Esquivel released the following statement on Tuesday:
Any officer involved shooting, including this one involving Officer Dondi West in January 2014, is an unfortunate outcome for all involved parties.
In January 2014, Officer West responded to a weapons related call for service on Cape Horn Dr. During this incident, Officer West was confronted by a male holding a knife, and threatening others. The male would not comply after repeated commands by the officer to drop the knife. The armed male continued to move toward Officer West. Officer West attempted to retreat as the armed male advanced toward her. Officer West appropriately used deadly force in fear for her life.
Officer Dondi West has been an officer with the San Jose Police Department for over 23 years and has had a stellar career with this department. She is an outstanding officer and will continue to work her regular assignment with this department as our City Attorney's Office researches the appeal process.