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Man Slain by Police Had Been Trying to Turn Life Around

Long Beach: John Jordan, whose family lost its wrongful-death suit in his killing, had sought to leave behind a troubled past, his kin say.

September 08, 2002|JEAN MERL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The defendants in the civil wrongful-death suit were the city of Long Beach, its Police Department and five of its officers. Yet, as the weeks of testimony unfolded this summer, it often seemed that the young man police had killed--during a mistaken-identity pursuit--was the one on trial.

Day after day, the character and troubled life of John Francis Jordan were dissected for the jury as witnesses answered questions about everything from his friends and his job to his stint in state prison.

Jurors on Friday sided with the city, finding 10 to 2 that the officers who had shot Jordan to death had neither used unreasonable force nor acted negligently.

According to his family and friends, Jordan was well on the road to leaving his past behind when he was killed three years ago. They said he had mended once-frayed family ties and had held a steady job for the first time in his 26 years; he was even talking about finally finishing high school.

He was excited about his girlfriend's pregnancy--it would be his second child--and the couple planned to marry soon. Drug use and other criminal activity were behind him, they said.

"He was no angel, but he was really turning his life around, and he sure didn't deserve to die like that," said Jordan's uncle, Mike Jordan. Mike Jordan drove his ailing brother, Gregory--John's father--to the Los Angeles County courtroom in Compton daily and sat with him through weeks of testimony.

But the attorney defending the suit and the witnesses he called to the stand painted a very different picture of John Francis Jordan: that of a drug user and a white supremacist prison gang member who had been far from mending his ways.

At least two witnesses said he had been acting high on the night of the shooting, and the coroner reported having found methamphetamines in Jordan's body. After several months as a model employee at a Carson electric cord company, Jordan had been fired a short time before the shooting for excessive absences.

"This was one nogoodnik, who basically was the architect of his own demise," said William A. Reidder, senior deputy city attorney for Long Beach. He said Jordan wanted to commit "suicide by cop" rather than face the prospect of more time behind bars.

Police, Reidder said, had reason to believe Jordan had a gun with him on the night they shot him as he ran through yards and over fences in a tidy, blue-collar neighborhood of North Long Beach. Police did not find a weapon on Jordan's body, however, or along the nearly four-block route of the chase. (During the trial, Reidder tried to establish that a friend of Jordan's had found a gun on a rooftop and hidden it from authorities, a theory hotly disputed by the Jordans' attorneys.)

Although the trial did not draw much media attention, it came during a summer of heightened police criticism caused by several incidents. There was, for example, the videotaped beating of a 16-year-old boy by an Inglewood police officer.

And in Long Beach, civil rights groups were demanding justice for two African American women shot to death by police in separate incidents; each woman had been wielding a knife.

Glenda Lee Rymer, 49, died after being hit with a "less lethal" bean bag shot as police tried to disarm her outside her apartment in June 2001.

In January, police shot mentally ill Marcella Byrd, 57, after she left a market without paying for groceries and raised an 8-inch knife toward officers as they followed her, commanding her to drop the knife. Police said the bean bags they fired initially had had no effect.

"This Southern California law enforcement environment is unbelievable to me. It's almost like an occupying force," said William J. Clough, a Jordan attorney and former police officer.

The Jordan family suit, brought two years ago by Gregory Jordan on behalf of his son's children, Justin now 10, and Jahni, now 2, and Jahni's mother, sought $10 million.

John Jordan died shortly after 8 p.m. Sept. 3, 1999, shot as he tried to scale a fence after eluding police, and their periodic shots, for nearly half an hour. Officers said he was reaching for his waistband, leading them to believe he was going for a gun.

About 20 officers had joined the chase on foot, along with three police dog units and a police helicopter, which kept its light on Jordan as he emerged from a hiding spot and resumed running. Officers had fired more than 20 shots; some of the bullets lodged in nearby homes and garages.

Jordan had been spending that Friday evening hanging out with others at a friend's bungalow on East Washington Street. Authorities said the bungalow was familiar to police as a "drug house." Two trial witnesses testified that there had been at least one gun on the premises that night.

Police said they were looking for an armed-robbery suspect named Troy Cunningham when they went to the house after a report of drug use there.

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