For Long Ma, the cabdriver kidnapped by three Orange County jail fugitives in January, freedom now comes with its own sense of confinement. He can't work, he said.
He's afraid to respond to calls and pick up strangers, experiencing post-traumatic stress and around-the-clock money worries, supporters say. Though he shared leads that helped authorities capture the escapees, the Orange County Board of Supervisors in March voted not to give him any of the reward money. Last week, he responded by filing a lawsuit against Orange County and its Sheriff's Department.
This week, he's still staying close to home. "He has been treated so unfairly. They have forgotten him and do not care about what happens to him," Hoang Huy Tu, his lawyer, said at a press conference announcing their legal strategy.
Four people split the $150,000 reward from the county: a homeless man who spotted two of the escapees in San Francisco, two Target employees in Rosemead who recognized the fugitives on surveillance video and a man whose van they had stolen.
Ma's lawsuit asks for $50,000 in reward money, alleging discrimination against him "based on his race and national origin" while noting that the tipsters - three men and one woman receiving compensation are all "non-Vietnamese Americans." It also claims Ma suffered damages of at least $2 million.
"We have not been served with the lawsuit. Our county counsel will review it once it's here and they will handle matters moving forward," said Lt. Mark Stichter, spokesman for the sheriff's department.
It was the cabbie's compassion and quick actions that led fugitive Bac Duong to confess to him that he wanted to return to "the right path," surrendering to police in late January, according to Tu. Later, he said, the Garden Grove victim spent hours talking to law enforcement, providing "valuable details" that convinced them to head to Northern California, trailing the remaining escapees Hossein Nayeri and Jonathan Tieu.
"On the first day, I knew they were going to kill me. On the second day, I gave up. My mind gave up," Ma said. "But later, I knew I had to do something because they could have hurt a lot of people."