Posted on Tue, Nov. 29, 2005

S.J. to pay $1.8 million in '03 cop shooting

Mercury News

After a San Jose police shooting that left two children without a mother and triggered an outcry among Vietnamese-Americans, the long legal saga of Bich Cau Thi Tran ended Tuesday with a $1.8 million settlement of a federal lawsuit.

San Jose agreed to pay the settlement to Tran's estate, more than two years after the 25-year-old mother was shot and killed in her kitchen by a San Jose police officer, sparking a federal civil rights and wrongful death lawsuit.

``I'm relieved it's over,'' said Dang Quang Bui, 36, who lived with Tran and fathered her two sons, Tony, 6, and Tommy, 5. ``It's been a really hard two years going through this process for me and my family.''

In exchange for the payment, all claims against officer Chad Marshall, former police chief William Lansdowne, then-assistant police chief Tom Wheatley, and current Chief Rob Davis will be dropped with no admissions of liability, City Attorney Rick Doyle said.

The agreement, which avoids a trial, will be submitted to U.S. District Court Judge James Ware for approval.

The settlement was reached after two mediation conferences, Doyle said. The city council approved the $1.8 million payment Tuesday.

``Our big concern has been the tragedy and making sure the kids are provided for,'' Doyle said. ``In our view, it's been a tragedy all the way around, and this begins the healing process.''

The family's attorney, Andrew Schwartz, said the settlement brought closure.

``Nobody's ever pleased in a situation like this,'' Schwartz said. ``We feel that the amount of the payment is significant and represents the significance and the weight of their loss. This was a real tragedy. A great deal of work went into the case.''

The settlement is believed to be one of the largest of its kind in Northern California.

Tran's death ignited an outcry among Vietnamese-Americans, who pressured police for answers in the shooting. And in an unusual move, the Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office sought a public grand jury hearing into her death, which resulted in Marshall being exonerated on Oct. 30, 2003.

``It's a good thing for the family, the city and for the community in general, so we can now move forward from this,'' said Richard Konda, executive director of the Asian Law Alliance and also the Coalition for Justice and Accountability. Both groups had worked on behalf of Tran's family.

Marshall arrived at Tran's home July 13, 2003, to investigate reports that her sons were left unattended in the street and also about a potential domestic violence situation.

He entered her home and within a few seconds shot and killed Tran as she waved an Asian-style vegetable peeler that he mistook for a cleaver.

Doyle said the breakdown of the payment includes:

• $800,000 that will be invested in an annuity for Tran's two sons.

• $200,000 for housing or to be used as a down payment for a home for the boys.

• $100,000 to Tran's mother and father.

• $630,000 in attorney's fees.

• $70,000 in federal court costs.

• $25,000 in fees for other attorneys who worked earlier on the Tran estate's lawsuit.

Speaking through an interpreter, Bui said he plans to buy a house for the children in the Bay Area. ``It's been really difficult financially,'' said Bui, who rents a room in Milpitas and is unemployed.

During the past 20 months, the city has been hit with large payouts related to lawsuits.

In March 2004, the city was ordered to pay $1.4 million in legal fees to the attorneys who represented the tenants and landlords of the Tropicana Shopping Center who thwarted the San Jose Redevelopment Agency's attempts to seize the aging mall and replace it with a shopping center.

In September, Dennis Fong, the primary property owner at the Tropicana, received a $6.5 million settlement to end his lawsuit for damages he incurred during the aborted takeover.

Contact Rodney Foo at or (408) 975-9346.

© 2005 and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.