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Man Held in Officer's Killing Settles Lawsuit

July 22, 1998|THAO HUA

A man mistakenly arrested for the killing of a highway patrol officer will receive a $35,000 settlement from the city of Fullerton.

Young Ho Choi had sued Fullerton, Anaheim and the California Highway Patrol after he was arrested two years ago in connection with the execution-style shooting death of Officer Don Burt. Choi spent three days in custody before he was released without being charged. Police later arrested Hung Thanh Mai, who awaits trail.

The city agreed to settle the suit to save costs, attorneys said.

"We felt that there was always a chance that a jury would be sympathetic to the person who was wrongfully arrested," said Bruce Praet, who represented Fullerton police in the case. "Even if a jury awarded him a few thousand dollars, the attorneys' fees and the cost of the suit would have been substantial. It would have exceeded the settlement. This was purely economic."

Choi agreed to drop his case against Fullerton, but he is continuing his battle with Anaheim and the CHP, attorneys said. U.S. District Judge Gary Taylor has dismissed most of the allegations in the suit and is considering whether the two agencies improperly denied Choi the use of a telephone. The judge has tentatively ruled in favor of Anaheim and the CHP on that issue.

On July 13, 1996, Burt was shot seven times, including once in the head, after making a routine traffic stop. The killer fled in Burt's patrol car, later found abandoned about seven miles away. Choi was near the patrol car.

"The city doesn't like paying money," Praet said. "But this is to an innocent person, who, although he was lawfully arrested, did spend a couple of days in jail."

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