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Officers Exonerated in Wrongful-Death Suit

Long Beach: Jury finds they didn't act recklessly or negligently in chasing, shooting a man in 1999.

September 07, 2002|JEAN MERL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Long Beach police officers who shot a man as he ran away three years ago did not use unreasonable force, nor did they act negligently, the jury in a wrongful-death suit found Friday.

The jurors' 10-2 verdict was good news for the city, its Police Department and the five officers who fired their guns during the chase that ended in the death of John Francis Jordan, 26, on the evening of Sept. 3, 1999.

Jordan's family, who brought the $10-million suit on behalf of his two small children, had claimed the officers bungled the pursuit and recklessly and unjustifiably killed a man who was unarmed and who did not resemble the man they were really seeking.

Police said they believed at the time that Jordan was an armed robbery suspect named Troy Cunningham, and that he had a weapon. No weapon was found after the nearly four-block chase through a working-class residential neighborhood in North Long Beach.

Long Beach officials investigated the shooting and found it to be justified, as did the Los Angeles County district attorney's office after reviewing the city's report.

Jordan, who had a criminal record but, according to family members, had begun to turn his life around, was hanging out with several others at a small bungalow on that Friday evening when officers arrived to check on what they said was a report of drug use there.

Seeing the officers, Jordan leaped out a back window, ran, hid for while, then, as a police helicopter's beam flushed him out, took off running again. About 20 officers, including some with dogs, joined the hunt.

Jordan was shot as he tried to scale a fence. Officers said he had reached for his waistband, leading them to believe he was about to attack them. His family said he had been trying to surrender when an officer fired, causing him to resume his flight and setting up the events that resulted in his death from several bullet wounds.

The coroner found substantial amounts of methamphetamines in Jordan's system.

William J. Clough, one of the attorneys who brought suit on behalf of Jordan's family, said after the verdict he was disappointed but not terribly surprised.

"Unbelievable!" Jordan's father, Gregory, said outside the courtroom.

"Jurors find it very difficult to hold police officers liable, especially when they all present a unified front" in their reports, Clough said.

Clough said he will appeal Judge Gary Hahn's ruling, early in the eight-week trial in Los Angeles Superior Court in Compton, that Jordan's civil rights were not violated.

William A. Reidder, the senior deputy city attorney who defended the Police Department, said the verdict vindicated the officers and the department, which has been under fire from civil rights activists recently for two other shooting deaths

Both involved African American women who had knives.

Glenda Lee Rymer, 49, died after being hit with a "less lethal" beanbag shot as police tried to disarm her after a domestic dispute in June 2001.

In January, police shot mentally ill Marcella Byrd, 57, after she left a market without paying for groceries and raised a knife at officers.

"This is not a cluster of cases," Reidder said. "These are all completely separate with their own sets of circumstances, and we'll deal with those the same way we dealt with this one, by laying out the facts."

Reidder and the five officers in the Jordan case--Anthony Anast, David Frazier, Joseph Marsh, Suradech Sriwanthana and Oscar Valenzuela--talked for a while with several jurors after the verdict.

A few of the jurors also agreed to speak with The Times on condition that their names not be used.

Jurors said they based much of their decision on a careful listening to recordings of police communications during the incident, which persuaded them officers believed Jordan to be armed at the time.

The plaintiffs had argued that the first officer to shoot did not alert other officers that he had fired his weapon, leading other officers to believe the gunfire came from Jordan.

Jurors, however, said they believed police, who maintained the first officer did attempt to alert his colleagues that he had fired.

*

Times staff writer Zanto Peabody contributed to this report.

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