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Wrongful Death Suit Filed In SJPD Shooting

SAN JOSE (BCN) -- An attorney for the parents of a mentally ill man who was shot to death by San Jose police officers two years ago has filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against the officers and the city of San Jose.

The suit, filed on Tuesday in Santa Clara County Superior Court, was filed on behalf of Vinh Huu Pham and Lan Thi Do, parents of 27-year-old Daniel Pham, their attorney, Paul Caputo, said.

Pham was shot by Officers Brian Jeffrey and Matthew Blackerby in the backyard of his home on Branbury Way on the morning of May 10, 2009. The officers fired a total of 14 rounds at Pham after he allegedly moved towards them while holding a knife.

Twelve of the bullets hit Pham, who was pronounced dead at the scene. A grand jury declined to file charges against the officers.

Caputo, however, said, "There were some serious mistakes made by those officers that led to the tragic death of Daniel Pham.

On that day, police had responded to a report of a stabbing at the residence and upon arrival had found Pham's brother, Brian Pham, 29, in the front lawn, bleeding from a cut across his neck.

The officers spotted Daniel Pham, the suspect, in the home's fenced-in yard, holding the knife and smoking a cigarette. According to police reports, Jeffrey pointed his gun at Pham and ordered him to drop the knife, but Pham "glared" at Jeffrey and continued to smoke his cigarette.

The reports say that Blackerby then went around a corner of the home and used a Taser in an attempt to detain Pham. Jeffrey, not knowing Blackerby was standing outside the fence, thought his partner was in danger and jumped over the fence and again pointed his gun at Pham and demanded he drop the knife, according to police reports.

When Pham ignored repeated verbal orders to drop the knife and advanced toward the officers, both officers opened fire, police officials said.

Pham's family has maintained police should have known Daniel Pham was mentally ill, as police had previously responded to their home to calm him down.

The shooting sparked anger among many residents, especially in the Vietnamese community, who called for police accountability in Pham's killing.

Police reports, however, indicated the officers may not have known about Pham's mental condition when they shot and killed him.

City Attorney Rick Doyle said it was an unfortunate situation that resulted in Pham's death, but that he does not see liability on the part of the officers or the city.

"Any time you have a death, it's a sad case," Doyle said. "Police shooting cases we look at very seriously. We've looked at the claim and the officers were acting in a way that was reasonable under the circumstances."

Caputo said the lawsuit is seeking unspecified damages and that it would be up to jurors to determine a fair resolution.

"It certainly is not about the money," Caputo said. "It's about seeking justice and finding out how and why their son was taken from them."

The city has 30 days to respond to the complaint before commencing with a trial, Caputo said.

He said the original claim was filed in October 2009, but that it was ignored by the city.

(© 2011 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Bay City News contributed to this report.)

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