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$8M Settlement in First Federal Trial Conducted via Zoom for Excessive Police Force

Police departments’ policies and standards list lethal force as the last resort, instructing officers to use conservative methods to deescalate situations unless presented with a deadly threat.

In 2011, the Tacoma Police Department dispatched over 20 vehicles on a 15-minute low-speed chase after Than Orn, a Cambodian refugee who recently emigrated to America. He was met by a blockade of police vehicles at his apartment complex.

Officers were instructed to stay inside their cars. However, Officer Kristopher Clark disregarded orders, exited his vehicle, and fired his gun 11 times at Than as he drove around the barricade, ultimately paralyzing him. Attorneys Loren Cochran of Cochran Douglas, PLLC, alongside Darrell Cochran and Tom Vertetis of Pfau Cochran Vertetis Amala, PLLC represented Than during the first federal jury trial conducted via Zoom. The three attorneys attained an $8M settlement using an animation describing the sequence of events and the excessive force used by Officer Clark.

Than was headed home from work when an unmarked police car attempted to pull him over for driving with his headlights off. Culture-shocked and afraid, Than continued home, hoping to give the car to his wife to make it to her upcoming work shift. Than observed every traffic rule and traveled at a lawful speed throughout the entire pursuit. He was fired up after turning into the parking lot of his apartment complex.

The shooting paralyzed Than from the waist down, leaving him with medical complications and a mountain of expenses he couldn’t afford. His health declined, requiring a double-leg amputation due to repeated infections from his injuries. To make matters worse, he was charged with a felony after the shooting, making it nearly impossible to find work.

A year after the shooting, Loren, Darrell, and Tom were referred by Than’s criminal defense attorney to hold the City of Tacoma accountable.

Than’s case languished in court, and it was uncertain when the attorneys would try their case in front of a jury. After litigating for nearly a decade, Than’s trial was set for November of 2020. However, because of the COVID pandemic, Than's trial was conducted virtually — entirely over Zoom. This created an unprecedented challenge for the team: how to retain a jury’s attention when presenting their case, knowing they will be distracted at home. Anticipating the question on everyone’s mind – Why didn’t Than just stop and comply? – the attorneys assembled a team of experts, including DK Global, to create a presentation outlining the circumstances leading to the shooting and Than’s lifelong damages.

The presentation commenced with a satellite map view showing where officers began pursuing Than. Police dispatch audio played and was transcribed for jurors to evaluate as dotted lines on the map displayed the chase unfolding. Next, the animation showed Than carefully maneuvering around the police barricade at his apartment complex. Then, Officer Clark was shown ignoring orders, unloading his magazine at Than’s SUV. Using a ballistics expert's data and testimony, the bullets’ trajectories were shown piercing through the vehicle, hitting Orn’s neck and spine. Than crashed through a fence, igniting his car. Finally, Than’s injuries and surgeries were recreated to show the permanent impairments resulting from Officer Clark and the Tacoma Police Department’s excessive force.

Loren, Tom, and Darrell played the animation for the jury. After witnessing the shooting, the judge and jury agreed Officer Clark’s use of force was unjustified and excessive. Additionally, the judge ruled Officer Clark’s actions violated Than’s fourth amendment right. On the eighth day, Loren, Tom, and Darrell met with the opposing counsel and agreed to settle the matter for $8M, clearing Than of all criminal charges.

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. Loren has been recognized as a “Super Lawyer” and a “Top-Rated Attorney” by Super Lawyers since 2014.

Tom B. Vertetis is a managing partner at Pfau Cochran Vertetis Amala, PLLC, and has earned the Martindale Hubbell Peer Review Rating of “AV Preeminent”. Tom was recognized as “Washington Trial Lawyer of the Year” by the American Board of Trial Attorneys for representing the victims 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.

"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 Vertetis – Pfau Chochran Vertetis Amala, PLLC
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