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Man sues Liberty Lake, officers

Thu., Nov. 20, 2008

Hong Ha says he was wrongfully arrested, discriminated against

A Vietnamese-American who fought at the side of U.S. forces in the Vietnam War says his civil rights were violated by Liberty Lake police who detained him in 2007 while searching for a suspect in a hit-and-run accident.

Hong Ha, of Spokane, has filed a lawsuit in Spokane County Superior Court against Liberty Lake, the city’s Chief of Police Brian Asmus, police Sergeant Clint Gibson and Detective Ray Bourgeois, accusing the defendants of false imprisonment, wrongful arrest and discrimination.

“There was no basis to arrest him and throw him in the back of the police car,” said Larry Kuznetz, Ha’s Spokane attorney. “He never expected that to happen in the United States.”

Asmus said his officers had “a reasonable suspicion” that they had detained the actual crime suspect and acted appropriately.

Ha’s claims stem from an Aug. 27, 2007, three-car collision on East Appleway. Liberty Lake police were searching for one of the drivers, described as “an Oriental male” named Johnny, who allegedly fled the scene of the accident in a maroon Toyota sedan.

Minutes after the accident, Gibson pulled over and detained Ha, in a maroon Toyota on Appleway. It was later determined that both Ha and the actual suspect had just finished their shift at nearby Huntwood Industries.

Ha, who was 68 at the time, repeatedly told Gibson he was not involved in the accident, but the sergeant nevertheless brought him to the scene to be identified by witnesses who were being interviewed by Bourgeois.

Asmus said a witness who could have positively identified the suspect had left the scene of the accident by bus.

Ha was searched, handcuffed and placed in the back of a patrol car. The lawsuit claims this was done painfully and without cause. Ha, who speaks limited English, said his request for an interpreter was ignored.

After inspecting Ha’s car and finding no indication it was involved in an accident, police released Ha.

“The plaintiff stated that he knew Johnny, and his car was much older and was red rather than maroon,” according to the lawsuit. Ha said his driver’s license should have indicated to officers that he was not the suspect.

Ha, who served as a captain in the South Vietnamese Army, immigrated with his family to the United States and settled in Spokane in 1994.

Kuznetz described the actions of Liberty Lake police as “a knee-jerk reaction” and said officers should have used more discretion rather than “stereotyping this gentleman.”

Asmus said officers acted appropriately considering Ha’s similarity to the suspect’s description and that it is “policy and procedure” to search and handcuff anyone detained in a patrol car.

Contact Kevin Graman at 459-5433 or kevingr@spokesman.com.


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