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Outside firm to probe death of Costa Mesa worker

The Costa Mesa city attorney has hired an outside firm to conduct a second investigation into the suicide of a city worker.

Officials said they want Talon Executive Services, a Costa Mesa-based company headed by former Secret Service Agent Ron Williams, to examine the evidence in case there is litigation related to the death of Huy Pham, 29, who jumped from the roof of City Hall on March 17 after learning he would receive a layoff notice.

The city is paying Talon $175 an hour, but officials did not provide an overall total for the contract. The decision to retain the firm was first reported Thursday by the Orange County Register.

City spokesman William Lobdell issued a statement saying, in part, that litigation support in anticipation of litigation is a common practice.

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Pham’s family, who lives in Fountain Valley, has not filed any claims or lawsuits against Costa Mesa. But a small number of city officials have privately questioned the thoroughness of the police investigation.

According to the police report, officers viewed about an hour of security camera video from inside City Hall before Pham’s death but didn’t see him enter the building. They also searched his car but didn’t find anything.

There was also no indication that officers looked at Pham’s phone records; talked to the person Pham last spoke with; or interviewed friends or family about why he would want to commit suicide.

The report said detectives “found no notes, documentation or further evidence indicating Pham had intentions of taking his life by committing suicide.”

A toxicology report from the Orange County coroner’s office showed Pham had cocaine in his system, but experts couldn’t say how it might have affected him.

Pham, a city maintenance worker, had been on leave for months after injuring an ankle while hiking. His supervisor, Doug Lovell, speculated that Pham may have gone to City Hall to pick up paperwork related to applying for a contractor’s license.

Pham was one of more than 200 employees scheduled to receive notices that day that their jobs would be outsourced in six months as part of citywide austerity measures.

Pham’s family declined to be interviewed. “They just want Huy to rest in peace and hope that everyone respects that,” Orange County Employees Assn. spokeswoman Jennifer Muir said on the family’s behalf.

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All deaths in the city are initially treated as homicides, police said. But evidence dictates how deep police will dig.

In this case, officers had a witness who reported seeing Pham walk on the roof minutes before his death, and there was nothing to indicate that it was anything other than a suicide.

There were no signs of a struggle, the police report said. One witness saw Pham fall, another witness saw his body moments after, but no one saw him jump, police said.

joseph.serna@latimes.com


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