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Parents of two slain Chinese students sue USC

The wrongful death suit, which seeks unspecified damages, says the university misled them by claiming it is among the safest in the United States. The school voices sympathy but says the suit is baseless.

May 18, 2012|By Richard Winton, Los Angeles Times
  • USC President C.L. Max Nikias bows before images of Ying Wu and Ming Qu before eulogizing the slain electrical engineering students at a memorial service last month.
USC President C.L. Max Nikias bows before images of Ying Wu and Ming Qu before… (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles…)

The parents of two USC graduate students slain near the campus last month have filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the university, saying the school misled them when it claimed that it ranks among the safest in the nation.

Ming Qu and Ying Wu, both 23-year-old electronic engineering students from China, were fatally shot April 11 while sitting in a parked BMW in the 2700 block of Raymond Avenue. No arrests have been made, but Los Angeles police say they believe the killings were the result of a robbery gone wrong.

On Wednesday, Wanzhi Qu and Xiahong Fei, Qu's parents, and Xuyong Wu and Meinan Yin, Wu's parents, filed the lawsuit in a downtown Los Angeles court, seeking unspecified damages.

Their attorney, Alan Burton Newman, alleges in the lawsuit that USC inaccurately claimed on its website that it "is ranked among the safest of U.S. universities and colleges, with one of the most comprehensive, proactive campus and community safety programs in the nation." The suit notes that USC says it provides 24-hour security on campus and in surrounding neighborhoods.

The suit says USC "provided no patrolling" in the neighborhood where the shooting occurred. After the killings, USC persisted with a "clearly misleading" portrayal of safety, reiterating in a letter to the campus community that crime "is low compared to other areas of Los Angeles," according to the lawsuit.

In response, USC attorney Debra Wong Yang said the university is "deeply saddened by this tragic event, which was a random violent act not representative of the safety of USC or the neighborhoods around campus. While we have deep sympathy for the victims' families, this lawsuit is baseless and we will move to have it dismissed."

Yang said that USC offered the victims' families financial assistance as a "gesture of kindness and sympathy" but that the parents were instructed by their attorney to decline it.

She also said that the university security net can stretch only so far and that the killings occurred three-quarters of a mile from campus in the third tier of security, where officers respond to incidents but do not patrol. She said she believes that the courts will find in the university's favor.

The suit alleges that USC actively solicits students from China for its graduate programs and receives a "substantial sum" in tuition to help fund the university.

Promotional materials in China refer to USC's "urban" setting, but the lawsuit said that would be interpreted by Chinese students as a sign of safety because historically in China, urban areas are safer.

The Adams-Normandie neighborhood where the shooting occurred ranks 27th out of 209 L.A. neighborhoods for violent crime, putting it in the top fifth of most violent areas, according to a Times analysis of crime data.

After the killings and the shooting of a robbery suspect by a USC security officer, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck announced that he would add 30 officers to the station that patrols USC's surroundings. He also said that the city attorney would assign a special prosecutor to the area and that new security cameras would be installed.

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