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Family Files Claim for Negligence

Times Staff Writer

The family of a man shot and fatally pinned to a palm tree by a Westminster police cruiser in February filed a $40-million claim against the city and Orange County as outrage over the incident continued to simmer in Little Saigon.

The death of Hoang Tan Bui, a 30-year-old father of two, has infuriated some in the Vietnamese American community who say they have had a cultural mistrust of law enforcement dating back to their experiences in Vietnam during the war.

The family this week filed a claim of excessive force and negligence, which is usually a precursor to a lawsuit. It came days after the Orange County district attorney’s office announced that no criminal charges would be filed against Westminster Police Officer Charles Shinn III, a 15-year veteran who was driving the cruiser at the time.

“I believe my son’s death was injustice,” said the victim’s mother, Rose Bui, breaking into tears Wednesday as she talked to about 100 supporters who gathered for a press conference in Westminster. “His death was caused by the officer’s behavior. The officer hit my son for no reason.”

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The Bui family’s attorney, Michael Avila, said Shinn violated Police Department procedure when he “used a patrol car to stop a fleeing suspect who is unarmed.”

It was the second day this week that community frustration was expressed. On Tuesday, city officials also heard concerns about the incident during a town hall meeting at which police updated residents on the investigation.

The Feb. 9 incident occurred when a motorist flagged down the officer to report that another driver -- later identified as Bui -- had allegedly sideswiped his car and fled.

Shinn chased Bui and pulled him over. As Shinn approached his car, Bui drove away and Shinn fired at least one shot, hitting Bui in the shoulder, authorities said.

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After a short chase, Bui stopped and ran away. The California Highway Patrol, which investigates all officer-involved collisions, said Shinn pulled his car onto the sidewalk to block Bui’s path but accidentally hit and pinned him against a palm tree. Bui died at the scene.

Shinn, 45, has been on paid administrative leave since the incident. He could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

The claim by Bui’s family alleges that Shinn was “unfit for duty.” The claim also alleges that Westminster police and the Orange County Sheriff’s Department failed to conduct a thorough investigation and reported false or incomplete information to the district attorney’s office.

City and county officials have 60 days to respond.

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Westminster police are investigating whether Shinn violated departmental procedures. Results are expected in four weeks, said Westminster Police Capt. Mitch Waller.

Also at the press conference Wednesday was Tuan Nguyen, who witnessed the incident from his home across the street. He said he was never questioned by the district attorney’s office.

“This is very unfair. We want the city to step up and pay for their responsibility,” Nguyen said to loud cheers from the crowd. “We don’t want to cause any trouble. We want to see justice. This was a human being.”

Susan Kang Schroeder, spokeswoman for Dist. Atty. Tony Rackauckas, said Westminster police interviewed Nguyen after the incident and that prosecutors reviewed his recorded statement and concluded it didn’t match up with physical evidence gathered at the scene.

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She said investigators determined that Shinn applied his brakes before hitting Bui.

“He wouldn’t have applied the brakes,” she said, “if he wanted to intentionally kill someone.”


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