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Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Five casino security guards chased unarmed Jonathan Jung as if hunting game

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Korean-American community leaders are raising calls for justice for Jonathan Jung, who was pinned to death by five security guards in the parking lot of Bicycle Casino in Bell Gardens, LA County. The five security guards acted as if they were hunting game; they trapped, cornered, knocked down, and pinned the unarmed Korean-American man to death.

The conflicting conclusions of the coroner’s office and forensic experts on the cause of Jung’s death are likely to be an issue in the upcoming trial.

The case was first investigated by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. None of the security officers involved in Jung’s death have faced any legal consequences, including arrest. This is likely due to the fact that the LA County Medical Examiner announced Jung’s cause of death as methamphetamine toxicity, not asphyxiation.

Jonathan Jung reportedly had a “verbal altercation” but did not assault or physically contact anybody while playing at the casino. Jung complied with a request to leave and walked away, but security continued to pursue him. [Courtesy of Cameron Jones LLP]

The problem was discovered in the initial report from the coroner’s office.

“The lab report stated that there were ‘analytical difficulties with the specimen matrix’ during the collection of Jonathan Jung’s blood sample,” said Indira Cameron-Banks, the plaintiffs’ attorney in the case, told Korea Daily. “This means that there were problems with the way the blood sample was collected, stored, and tested, and yet they concluded that methamphetamine was the cause of death.”

The case entered a new phase as the family sought to have a forensic investigation conducted to determine what caused Jung’s death.

“We have commissioned medical reviews from forensic pathologists, respiratory specialists, and toxicologists, all of whom have concluded that Jonathan Jung’s death was caused by restraint asphyxia, which contradicts the medical examiner’s initial assessment,” Cameron-Banks said.

After driving him to the corner of the parking lot, five security guards quickly surround Jung as he panics and tries to run away. [Courtesy of Cameron Jones LLP]

Restraint asphyxia is the term used for deaths that occur in law enforcement situations where physical restraint is involved in controlling an individual, being why Jung’s death parallels the George Floyd case.

Another issue that is called for truth is that the security camera footage of the incident was not immediately released.

According to the plaintiffs’ attorneys, the casino initially denied the existence of any security footage of the incident. This was detailed in a lawsuit filed against the casino by Philip Tirman, the husband of Jung’s sister, Vanessa Jung, who had taken her own life from the trauma of her brother’s tragic death.

“We learned from the medical examiner’s report that there was a video of the incident and filed a subpoena to the LA County Sheriff’s Department to obtain the video,” the complaint states, adding that “the casino attempted to conceal information about Jung’s case from July 2021 until at least August 2023.”

The Bicycle Casino is currently operated by Parkwest, a company headed by Korean American John Park. Park acquired the casino in April 2022. Jung’s case occurred before Park took over the property.

The plaintiffs cite the responsibility of Hashem Minay, the casino’s CEO. Minay has worked for the casino as CEO even before Park’s acquisition.

The plaintiffs’ attorneys alleged a cover-up by the Bicycle Casino based on the fact that Jung’s death was not reported to the California Gambling Control Commission (CGLR). Under California’s business regulations (Section 12282) and federal law, casinos must report deaths to the CGLR. Failure to do so can result in penalties such as loss of license or fines.

“The casino failed to report Jonathan Jung’s death to the CGLR at a time when the casino was under intense scrutiny by law enforcement authorities for continued criminal activity,” Cameron-Banks alleged in the complaint, “and under those circumstances, it is unlikely that the casino would have wanted to face additional investigation for the fact that an untrained security guard choked a man to death in a casino parking lot.”

According to the complaint, the casino was already under investigation for violations of the money laundering and Bank Secrecy Act by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California at the time of Jung’s death.

Korean-American organizations are also calling for a thorough investigation into the case. “We are currently working with Korean-American organizations to arrange a meeting with the family’s attorney,” said James An, president of the Korean American Federation of Los Angeles.

“This is a very tragic incident,” said Steve Kang, director of external affairs at Koreatown Youth and Community Center. “This case needs to be thoroughly investigated and punished accordingly.”

The Korea Daily reached out to Bicycle Casino for comment on the lawsuit on June 14 but has not received a response as of 5 p.m. on June 16.

BY YEOL JANG, HOONSIK WOO [jang.yeol@koreadaily.com]