Wednesday, November 18, 2009

February 2 date set for wrongful death lawsuit in police shooting of Michael Cho

The Orange County Register is reporting that a date has been set for the wrongful death suit filed against two police officers in the northwestern OC community of La Habra over the shooting death of Michael Cho, an artist and UCLA graduate.

Michael Cho's case was discussed at length at The Marmot's Hole in March of last year. There were many complicating things about the case, including the fact that Cho was breaking windows with a tire iron but that he was videotaped walking away from police just seconds before he was shot. He also had reportedly had emotional problems, which led some to suspect "suicide by cop."

Here's some background on the shooting from around the time it happened. Below is local Korean station footage of news of the shooting:

From the OCR:
The case will likely be decided by a jury, said Bruce Praet, attorney for the officers. Praet said the officers are still working for the La Habra Police Department.

The judge dismissed the case against La Habra, which also was named in the suit.

Michael Cho, 25, was shot by police Dec. 31, 2007, outside a liquor store near Whittier Boulevard and Walnut Avenue in La Habra.

On the day of the shooting, police went to a strip mall at Whittier Boulevard and Walnut Street after receiving two calls about a man vandalizing cars. When police arrived, the caller pointed out Cho as the man responsible.

Cho, an artist and UCLA graduate, was holding a tire iron in his hand. Police ordered him to drop the weapon, according to officials.

After Cho ignored multiple requests, turned from the officers twice and made a motion as if to attack one of the officers, the police officers shot Cho 11 times, according to the Orange County District Attorney's Office.

"We don't believe there is liability," said Praet, the officers' attorney. "It is tragic anytime someone dies, but they did nothing wrong."

Shelley Kaufman, the attorney for the Chos, said their son's actions posed no threat to the officers.

"He was walking away from the officers," she said. "He was not wanting to have anything to do with them at all."
This brings to mind a case earlier this year, that of Susie Kim (also discussed at The Hole), who was shot to death after allegedly driving drunk and leading Orange County law enforcement on a multi-city chase. As I mentioned in June, it's disturbing how little information about this case is out there. Shouldn't an investigation have come up with results by now?


  1. The cops should have had stun guns with them.

    I hope they get sued for a huge amount so local police stations will spend a little to give cops a non-lethal option other than a baton.

  2. Of course, after they're sued, they won't be able to afford stun guns.

    I think one problem with Orange County's highly decentralized structure, necessitated by the fact that it's thirty-some municipalities conglomerated in one giant municipality, is that it's hard to get a consistent policy across the board. Something like getting stun guns and learning how to use them.

    It almost certainly would have worked with Michael Cho, though maybe not with Susie Kim. But the Susie Kim case smells bad, but for other reasons.

  3. Well, this hits home for me because I live about four or five miles from where Mike was killed.

    I don't want a trigger happy cops to shoot me without knowing that a crazy expensive lawsuit might loom in the foreground. You had BETTER think taze first rather than shoot first!

  4. Edward, I totally agree with you on that. I've had run-ins with cops when I was doing absolutely nothing wrong. Some relatives have had run-ins with cops at traffic stops and other routine things that came close to turning very violent because of gung-ho cops. It's a scary thing that some are out there with this take-no-prisoners, us-versus-them attitude that excuses whatever action they take. Especially when it is happening in your own community (OC being my community as well).

    I expanded on some of my own thoughts on this matter here.

  5. I completely agree with you guys on this. In NO WAY am I saying the cops should have shot Cho. However, I am also just curious as to why Cho would not just drop the tire iron when confronted by scared cops who are pointing guns at you. It's not just about having a "bad day" or being at your "worst"...when you're facing cops (who are very scared in these situations, by the way) it's no time to have your ego or pride deter you from making the smart move. In Cho's case, the smart move would have been to just drop it and raise his hands. If he really wanted to walk away, he should have dropped the weapon and walked away, in which case, I don't think the cops would have shot him. We really don't know what happened off-camera after he walked away.


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