A Los Angeles civil jury awarded $9.8 million to the family of a mentally ill Long Beach woman who died after being shot by two Long Beach police officers, an attorney announced Tuesday.
The eight-member jury in Los Angeles federal court unanimously found that the officers acted with “malice and oppression,” supporting a finding of punitive damages against the officers, according to Brian Dunn, one of the family’s lawyers.
He said the panel additionally found that the shooting incident “shocked the conscience,” which allowed the parents of Sinuon Pream to recover damages for the loss of their familial relationship with their daughter.
A city of Long Beach spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
“We hope that this verdict will save lives and change the way that the officers in the Long Beach Police Department and other police departments respond to people that are suffering from mental illnesses,” Dunn said.
The trouble began on the morning of Jan. 15, 2017, when Officers Bradley Muhlenkamp and Elieser Domingo were dispatched to the intersection of Seventh Street and Bellflower Boulevard near the Veterans Administration Hospital in Long Beach.
They were responding to reports that Pream had been assaulting and threatening civilians with a knife. Upon arriving at the location, the officers observed the 37-year-old Cambodian woman pushing a shopping cart and waving a knife. The officers, believing Pream to be possibly transient and suffering from a mental illness, ordered her to drop the weapon — a fruit carving knife less than 4 inches long, according to trial testimony.
She refused to do so and began moving away from the officers. The officers then ordered Pream to drop the knife again and, according to the officers, she responded with profanity while proceeding to move away and continuing to wave the knife at them, evidence presented to the jury showed.
Less than a minute later, the officers fired a total of eight total rounds at Pream, hitting her seven times, the jury heard.
Muhlenkamp fired seven times, striking Pream six times, and Domingo fired once, striking Pream. The coroner determined that Pream suffered numerous wounds which entered the back of her body, including a fatal wound which entered her left buttock and severed her femoral artery, according to testimony.
The officers maintained that they fired at Pream because they feared she was attempting to attack Muhlenkamp with the knife.
The Pream family thanked the jury for its finding, which was reached Friday evening following a week-long trial.
“As we mourned Sinuon’s death these last two years, we remained confused and devastated, not knowing how or why it happened,” the family said in a statement. “While this was an extremely tough week at trial, hearing the full details of what actually happened and receiving this verdict makes us feel like we have finally received justice. We hope Sinuon’s soul can finally rest in peace.”