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First Federal Jury Trial Via Zoom for Excessive Police Force Results in $8M Settlement

Police departments have policies and standards guiding the use of force. This “use-of-force continuum” lists deadly force as the last resort and instructs officers to use conservative non-lethal methods to deescalate situations unless presented with a serious 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. Orn was driving home from work when an unmarked police car attempted to pull him over for driving with his headlights off.

Culture-shocked and afraid, Orn continued to drive home. His goal was to give the car to his wife so she could commute to her upcoming work shift. Through the entire pursuit, Orn traveled at a lawful speed, observing every traffic rule. When he arrived at his apartment complex, he was met by a blockade of police vehicles.

Police were instructed to remain inside their cars, but Officer Kristopher Clark disregarded orders. Officer Clark exited his vehicle and fired his gun 11 times at Orn as he drove around the barricade.

The shooting paralyzed Orn from the waist down and left him with a mountain of medical expenses he couldn’t afford. Additionally, he was charged with a felony after the shooting, making it impossible to find work.

A year after the shooting, 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 hold the City of Tacoma accountable.

Orn’s case languished in court, and it was unclear when the attorneys would try their case in front of a jury. To make matters worse, Orn’s health declined, requiring a double-leg amputation due to repeated infections from his injuries. Finally, after fighting for nearly a decade, Orn’s trial was set for November of 2020. However, because of the quarantine, the trial was scheduled to be conducted entirely via Zoom, the first of its kind for a federal jury trial.

Trying a case on such a new, untested medium created an unprecedented challenge for the three attorneys: how to present their case to jurors trying to pay attention while dealing with day-to-day distractions at home. To prepare for the question on everybody’s mind — Why didn’t Orn just stop and comply? — the attorneys assembled a team of experts and enlisted DK Global’s help. Together, they crafted a presentation outlining the circumstances leading to Orn’s altercation, and his subsequent paralysis and complications.

The 30-minute presentation began with a satellite view indicating where Orn was seen driving with his headlights off. The police dispatch audio was played and transcribed for jurors to evaluate. The animation showed Orn carefully driving over a curb to get around the police barricade at his apartment complex. Then, the video displayed Officer Clark ignoring orders and unloading his magazine at Orn’s SUV. The bullets pierced through the vehicle and struck Orn’s neck and spine, causing him to crash through a fence and ignite the car. Expert-founded data created a bullet-trajectory analysis, showing each shot’s path into Orn’s Mitsubishi. Finally, Orn’s damages and surgical procedures were displayed.

The presentation illustrated Orn’s lifelong injuries resulting from the deadly response exhibited by Officer Clark and the Tacoma Police Department. After several days in trial, Loren, Darrell, and Thomas attained an $8 million settlement for Than Orn, clearing him 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.

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”. Thomas has recently been 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 Cochran Vertetis Amala, PLLC
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