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Sunday, July 21, 2024

Five casino security guards trap and pin Korean American to death

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On July 24, 2021, around 3:57 p.m., at the Bicycle Casino parking lot in Bell Gardens, five casino security guards knocked down a Korean-American man, Jonathan Jung (then 45 years old), in the parking lot, pinned him face-down to the ground and pressing him down with their knees.

Subsequently, they bent Jonathan’s legs back and hog-tied him. The security guards restrained Jonathan for approximately 3 minutes and 40 seconds. During this time, Jonathan experienced breathing difficulties, vomited, and then lost consciousness, and eventually died.

This tragedy mirrors the ‘George Floyd incident,’ which caused nationwide outrage four years ago, but it occurred to a Korean-American individual.
The incident, however, has never been reported in the media over the past three years. The security guards who caused Jonathan’s death and the casino faced no punishment.

The video released by the plaintiff’s legal team vividly shows five security guards pinning down Jonathan Jung. The red mark in the photo indicates the specific angle and position of the security guard’s knee pressing on Jung’s upper body. [Provided by the law firm Cameron | Jones LLP]

The LA County Coroner’s office determined the cause of death as “methamphetamine toxicity.” Based on this autopsy result, the LA County Sheriff’s Department did not press any criminal charges against the casino security guards or the casino.

The Jung family secured the security camera footage from the casino parking lot through a civil lawsuit, confirming that Jonathan was suffocated under a knee, similar to George Floyd. They sought independent medical opinions on the cause of death from a board-certified forensic pathologist, a pulmonologist, and a toxicologist. All three independently concluded that Jonathan died from restraint asphyxia, a view completely different from the initial autopsy assessment by the County Coroner’s office.

Jonathan’s sister, Vanessa, was deeply shocked after watching the video of her brother’s death and took her own life a few weeks later. The Jung family is currently engaged in a legal battle against the casino.

According to the LA County Superior Court, parents Jung Sik Jung and Insoon Jung, along with son-in-law Phillip Tirman, have filed a lawsuit against Bicycle Hotel & Casino in Bell Gardens, alleging wrongful death, assault, battery, and negligent hiring, supervision, and training.

The plaintiffs’ legal team (Indira J. Cameron-Banks and Terrence M. Jones) formally filed a third amended complaint on January 29, 2024. The civil lawsuit proceedings began last week. On June 14, at the Long Beach Courthouse, the legal team presented their opening statements in the case. The court plans to proceed with the trial soon after the jury selection process.

The CCTV footage released by the plaintiffs’ legal team shows five security guards gradually following Jonathan for about five minutes, almost as if they were hunting prey.

Jonathan, who had been asked to leave for behaving oddly and bothering other patrons, peacefully walked out of the casino and headed to the parking lot where his car was parked.

Despite having left the casino, the security guards continued to follow him, causing Jonathan, who suffered from bipolar disorder, to look back repeatedly and quicken his pace in fear and psychological distress. The footage even shows Jonathan, in a state of panic, attempting to seek help from a driver and get into a vehicle.

Ultimately, Jonathan was cornered into a fenced-off section of the casino parking lot. The footage shows a security guard pushing and knocking down Jonathan as he tried to flee, with all five guards piling on him simultaneously. After approximately three minutes of pressing down on Jonathan, the guards finally turned his body over, but by then, it was too late.

In the complaint, the plaintiffs assert that “due to the excessive and unnecessary assault and detention by the security guards, Jonathan had to die on the asphalt,” and “Jonathan complied with the casino’s request to leave, but the security guards continued to follow, threaten, and assault him even outside the building.”

The plaintiffs’ legal team argued that “Jonathan displayed only verbal issues while playing games at the casino and did not engage in physical contact with any customers or staff,” and “even though Jonathan had already exited the building as requested by the casino and was heading to his car, the security guards pursued him without reason, trapping him as if setting a trap.”

Terrence Jones, the plaintiff’s attorney, stated, “The individuals who choked Jonathan to death were private security guards, not police. They did everything wrong. They shouldn’t have been trying to ‘arrest’ Jonathan in the first place.”

Jonathan was the son of Jung Sik Jung, a missionary working in Ukraine. The shock of the incident led Jonathan’s sister, Vanessa Jung (then 44 years old), to take her own life in August last year, and their mother’s dementia symptoms worsened. Vanessa’s husband, Dr. Phillip Tirman, has also filed a separate lawsuit against the Bicycle Casino in September last year, holding them accountable for his wife’s death. Dr. Tirman is currently practicing as a physician, and the deceased Vanessa Jung was a psychologist.

The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office has an advisory board to oversee legal matters involving Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. The board is monitoring the trial’s outcome.

Esther Lim, chair of the board, stated, “This incident is simply outrageous. The Korean-American community needs to be fully aware of this incident, and we must collectively raise our voices for justice in response to such a tragic death.”

By Mooyoung Lee    [lee.mooyoung@koreadaily.com]