In many states, if you shoot someone in justified self-defense and are cleared of criminal charges, the person you shot (or his family) can still sue you for damages in civil court. That’s the case in Oregon where a small business owner named Charlie Win Chan recently paid out $400,000 in just such a lawsuit.
Before you ask: this case did go to a grand jury, and the grand jury declined to indict Chan for any criminal wrongdoing. In their eyes, the shooting looked like a justified self-defense homicide. The details of the incident, which occurred on Feb 20, 2017, are as follows:
Jason Gerald Petersen, 32, was a schizophrenic homeless man who’d spent the previous night camping out on the doorstep of Chan’s insurance agency and subsequently left his sleeping bag and other belongings on the stoop. When 51-year-old Charlie Chan got to work in the morning, he took the stuff off the doorstep, tossed it into the garbage bin beside his business, and locked the bin.
According to Chan’s statement to police, Petersen walked into the insurance agency sometime that afternoon, told Chan he’d slept on the porch that night, and asked after his stuff. After Chan told Petersen he threw the belongings away, Petersen threatened to kill him and torch his business. Petersen lunged forward, Chan said, and at point blank range, Chan fired a single round into Petersen’s abdomen out of his 22-caliber revolver.
Chan, who is 5′ 6″, told investigators that he’d feared for his life, believing the younger, slightly taller man could overpower him.
Although Chan was cleared of criminal charges, an opportunistic attorney found a way to argue that he was sufficiently in the wrong to owe civil damages. From Insurance Business Magazine:
An attorney for Petersen’s estate claimed in court papers that Chan did not actually offer to open up the locked garbage bin when Petersen asked.
“Instead, Chan threatened to call the police and Petersen immediately left the building,” wrote Robert Le, attorney for Petersen’s estate. “Chan followed him outside, where there was a second verbal altercation between Petersen and Chan on the property.”
Le added that the dispute culminated in Chan drawing one of the many guns he carries on his person and shooting Petersen.
That’s how Chan ended up paying $400,000 in damages to Petersen’s “estate,” a.k.a. the 32-year-old’s bottom-feeding parents. And Chan can consider himself lucky, believe it or not, because the damages actually sought by the family exceeded $15 million.
Of that $400,000 settlement amount, the attorney will be paid $160,000. After payouts for other costs, including a second law firm and expert witnesses, Petersen’s family will receive between $134,000 and $182,000.