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Jury awards $2M to family of man shot while stabbing officer

Los Banos Police Department patrol car. (Los Banos Police Department/Facebook)
September 05, 2018

After a multi-year lawsuit, a jury made a surprising decision when it awarded a significant sum to the family of a man who was fatally shot while stabbing a police officer.

On Aug. 15, a Sacramento jury awarded $2.75 million in damages to the family of Sonny Lam, a man with mental health issues who was killed by police in 2013 while he stabbed an officer with a pair of scissors, the Merced Sun-Star reported Friday.

Around 3 p.m. on Sept. 2, 2013, 80-year-old Tan Lam called police to report that he had been assaulted by his 43-year-old son, Sonny Lam. With the help of his neighbor due to limited English, Tan Lam told police that his son had mental health issues and had threatened to kill him.

Los Banos Police Officer Jairo Acosta responded to the domestic violence call, but was never informed of Sonny’s mental health issues. Sonny was sitting in a room when Acosta arrived on the scene and refused the officer’s orders to exit.

Ignoring the officer’s persuasion to go outside, Sonny grabbed a pair of scissors and started stabbing Acosta.

The Los Banos Police Department said in a press release on Friday, “[He] attacked Officer Acosta, stabbing him in his left arm. The Officer drew his firearm and a struggle ensued between the Officer and the suspect over the firearm. Fearing for his safety, the Officer discharged his weapon twice, striking the suspect in the left leg and the chest.”

Sonny was transported to a hospital where he died from the injuries.

The jury found that Sonny did stab Acosta before the officer fired any shot, but since Sonny did not get a hold of Acosta’s gun, Acosta was negligent in shooting Sonny the second time.

However, the jury also found that Sonny was comparatively at fault, which reduced the final verdict amount by 30 percent.

The Los Banos Police Department’s press release also said, “The jury was unclear as to whether the Officer was under immediate threat when he fired the second round… the round that caused the suspect’s death.”

“All life is valuable, and the use of deadly force is never taken lightly. But we respectfully disagree with the verdict and stand by Officer Acosta and believe that he acted in self-defense in his use of lethal force during a sequence of events that lasted less than a minute,” the release added.

The police department said it will appeal the verdict. They also said they support Officer Acosta, who is still employed with the department.

Acosta has since been promoted to the rank of detective.