Buena Park police officers used excessive force in deadly shooting, jury finds

Buena Park Police Dept.
Buena Park Police Department. (Google Maps)

Two Buena Park police officers used excessive force when they fatally shot a 19-year-old man suffering from a mental breakdown, a Santa Ana jury found this week and subsequently awarded his mother $3.5 million in damages.

Officers Bobby Colon and Jennifer Tran shot and killed 19-year-old David Sullivan on Aug. 19, 2019 when they confronted him after he stole a vehicle from his workplace, according to lawyers for the victim's family. Sullivan, who was shot multiple times, was unarmed.

The plaintiff's attorneys argued that Sullivan was suffering a mental breakdown that required the officers to use proper non-ethal techniques for dealing with a person in distress.

This was the second time the officers were tried in the case. A federal jury hung on the case in 2022 and a mistrial was declared, according to the plaintiff’s lawyers. The case was then remanded to state court.

Although Colon and Tran will be held civilly liable for the shooting, it is unlikely they will face professional repercussions, said Gary Dordick, the attorney who led the plaintiff’s trial team.

Colon and Tran attempted to pull Sullivan over for an expired registration on the day of the shooting, Dordick said in a press release. Sullivan attempted to flee in the stolen SUV, striking the police car and a passerby.

When Sullivan’s vehicle came to a stop, he charged at the officers on foot. The officers fired seven shots, striking Sullivan four times in a shooting caught on one officer’s body camera, according to the plaintiff's attorney's.

The defendants argued during trial that Sullivan, who was over 6 feet tall and weighed 230 pounds, was running toward them in a threatening manner and could have inflicted great bodily harm, Dordick said. They also referenced a suicide note found in Sullivan’s wallet after his death as a justification for the shooting, he said.

“This was a bad shooting and they should have accepted responsibility and learned from it,” Dordick said in an interview. “Instead, they gave inconsistent statements and false statements about the shooting.”

Dordick and his team argued that the officers used lethal force against a man who did not present a deadly threat. They also pointed out that Sullivan was in the midst of a mental health crisis at the time.

“The family has to accept responsibility for the wrongful conduct of David Solomon and what role he played,” Dordick said. “But at the same time, the officers need to accept responsibility and be held accountable for what they did.”

Dordick said he expects the defendants to file an appeal.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.