In what is thought to be the largest award of its kind in the history of the city, a California federal jury awarded the family of 37-year-old Sinuon Pream a $9 million judgment this week. The settlement stems from the wrongful death of Pream, who was gunned down in 2017 by Long Beach Police. The wrongful death suit was filed by Pream’s parents and her four children.
Pream was shot by Elieser Domingo and Bradley Muhlenkamp, two officers with the Long Beach Police Department, on January 15, 2017. Police allege that at the time of the shooting, Pream had “tried to cut and stab several civilians” with a knife and that she “swung it at officers and advanced on them.” Both officers say they attempted to stun Pream prior to shooting her but claim that stun guns had no effect on her.
Pream’s family argued police officers should have worked harder to de-escalate the situation. They say that Pream suffered from mental illness and needed help, not lethal force. An attorney representing the family reports that the autopsy performed after the shooting revealed that Pream was shot in her back three times.
When a person dies at the hands of another, surviving family members may have grounds for filing a wrongful death action against the responsible person or persons. At JML Law, our Los Angeles wrongful death attorney is a staunch advocate for families grieving for a loved one taken too soon and fights with aggression for the rights of the ones left behind.
In the Pream case, the City of Long Beach argued that the use of force was “reasonable under the circumstances.” The officer who fired the most shots, Muhlenkamp, was deposed in court as saying that he shot the victim because he felt that his life was being threatened. The city is looking into its legal options in the wake of the $9 million settlement award and says one of those options may be appealing the verdict of the jury.
Jurors weren’t buying the testimony of the officers involved or the city’s take on the incident. The jury found that the shooting “shocked the conscience.” Another attorney for the family noted that he hoped that “this verdict will save lives and change the way that offices in the Long Beach Police Department and other police departments respond to people that are suffering from mental illnesses.”
The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office investigated the shooting. No charges were filed against the officers involved, and both are still working for the department.
This case serves as an example of how a wrongful death suit can be successful, even when no criminal charges were filed against the at-fault party in someone’s death or when the at-fault party is acquitted of criminal wrongdoing. There are different standards of fault in criminal and civil cases; many times it is easier to prove liability in civil court than it is to prove that a crime occurred in criminal court.