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8 Million-Dollar Settlement in First Federal Jury Trial Via Zoom - Cochran Douglas, PLLC and Pfau Cochran Vertetis Amala, PLLC

All law enforcement agencies have policies and standards that guide their use of force when resolving conflicts. This “use-of-force continuum” lists lethal force as the last resort and instructs officers to use conservative and non-lethal methods to deescalate situations until presented with a serious threat.

In 2011, the Tacoma Police Department dispatched 22 to 23 vehicles on a 15-minute low-speed chase after Than Orn, a Cambodian refugee who had just emigrated to America. Orn was seen leaving work with his headlights off by an officer in an unmarked police car who signaled him to pull over.

Culture shocked and afraid, Orn continued home because he wanted to give his wife the car to get to her upcoming work shift. Orn traveled at a lawful speed, observing every traffic law until he made it to his apartment complex, only to be met by a blockade of police vehicles. Tacoma Police officers were instructed to remain inside their cars, but officer Kristopher Clark disregarded orders, exited his vehicle, and fired his weapon 11 times at Orn as he drove around the barricade, striking him multiple times and paralyzing him. Orn, now paraplegic and unable to pay for his mountain of medical expenses, was charged with a felony after the shooting, making it impossible to find work and provide for his family.

A year later, Loren Cochran of Cochran Douglas, PLLC, and Darrell Cochran and Thomas Vertetis of Pfau Cochran Vertetis Amala, PLLC were referred by Orn’s criminal defense attorney to represent Orn against the City of Tacoma. After speaking with Orn and hearing his life story, the three attorneys began strategizing his recovery and how to attain compensation for the unjustifiable, excessive force used by Officer Clark.

Over the years, Orn’s health steadily declined. In March of 2020, both his legs were amputated due to repeated infections from his injuries. Because of continuous delays due to the pandemic darkening the courts, it was unclear when Loren, Darrell, and Thomas would be able to try their case in front of a jury. Finally, after fighting for nearly a decade, Orn’s trial was set for November of 2020, making it the first remote, federal jury trial conducted via Zoom. This created an unprecedented challenge for the three attorneys: presenting their case in a compelling and comprehensive manner to a juror at home.

In preparation for the question on every juror’s mind — “Why didn’t Orn just stop and comply?” — Loren, Thomas, and Darrell constructed a team of experts that worked with DK Global to create a presentation that outlined the circumstances which lead to Orn’s paralysis caused by excessive police force.

The 30-minute presentation begins with a satellite view of Tacoma, Washington, indicating where Orn was first seen driving with his headlights off. The entire police dispatch audio is played and transcribed for jurors to evaluate, until Orn reaches his apartment complex and commanding officers instruct everyone to stay inside their vehicles. The incident is recreated to show Orn carefully driving over a curb to get around the blockade until Officer Clark disregards orders and exits his vehicle. Officer Clark is then seen unloading his magazine, shooting 11 rounds at Orn’s SUV, piercing through the vehicle and striking Orn’s back, neck, and spine, causing him to crash through the fence and ignite the vehicle. With expert guidance, a bullet trajectory analysis is shown, indicating each bullet’s path into Orn’s Mitsubishi. Finally, to demonstrate the long list of medical complications that resulted from Orn’s injuries, two surgical animations were created, showing the ligation (closing) of Orn’s jugular vein and the debridement of his persisting sores on his right ischium (hip bone) six years after the incident.

With the entire incident portrayed, showing the unnecessary and deadly response exhibited by Officer Clark and the Tacoma Police Department that resulted in Orn’s lifelong injuries, Loren, Darrell, and Thomas attained an $8 million settlement for their client, clearing him of all criminal charges so he and his family can move forward from this tragedy.

Loren A. Cochran is a founding partner at Cochran Douglas, PLLC in Tacoma, Washington representing survivors of sexual abuse, civil rights violations, catastrophic injuries, and wrongful death matters since 2002. Cochran has been recognized as a Super Lawyer and a Top Rated Attorney by Super Lawyers since 2014.

Thomas B. Vertetis is a Managing Partner at Pfau Cochran Vertetis Amala, PLLC and has earned the Martindale Hubbell Peer Review Rating of AV Preeminent, a prestigious accomplishment attained by attorneys of the highest level of professional excellence. Thomas has recently been recognized as Washington Trial Lawyer of the Year by the American Board of Trial Attorneys for representing the survivors of catastrophic injuries, medical malpractice, sexual abuse, and civil rights violations.

Darrell Cochran is a Partner at Pfau Cochran Vertetis Amala, PLLC, and has served as President of the Washington State Association for Justice. Darrell has been recognized as a Super Lawyer every year since 2001, attaining numerous multimillion-dollar awards for his clients. Recently, Darrell has been named a Litigation Trailblazer by The National Law Journal in 2020.

"I don’t know if we would have been as nearly as successful if we didn’t have those demonstratives. To me, that was the silver bullet that really brought this case around to a very successful resolution."
Thomas B. Vertetis - Pfau Cochran Vertetis Amala, PLLC
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