Civil case underway against Colorado Springs liquor store owner who shot shoplifter

January 7, 2014 Updated: January 8, 2014 at 4:45 pm
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Liquor store owner Chang Ho Yi will not have to pay damages to Bryson Dewberry, whom he shot in the face after a shoplifting incident on Oct. 25, 2010. Photo by CHRISTIAN MURDOCK/The Gazette

The price for shoplifting vodka from one Colorado Springs liquor store: A .357 slug to the face, fired at point-blank range.

That's the claim at the heart of a lawsuit playing out before an El Paso County jury, which must decide whether the vodka thief, Bryson Dewberry, deserves to be compensated by Chang Ho Yi, the store owner he says chased him out of Austin Bluffs Liquor, 4150 Austin Bluffs Parkway, and shot him at close range after he jumped in a getaway car.

The lone bullet hit Dewberry, then 22, in the jaw and also struck a 17-year-old fellow passenger in the leg, authorities say.

Plaintiff's attorneys allege Yi was negligent in commencing an armed chase after the October 2010 theft and say he should be on the hook for Dewberry's continuing medical expenses, which are expected to top $200,000.

The suit also seeks payment for noneconomic losses including pain and suffering, loss of work, and the loss of future opportunities.

Formerly an aspiring rapper, Dewberry continues to suffer a speech impediment despite two reconstructive surgeries and is no longer able to perform, plaintiff's attorney Durant D. Davidson said during opening statements Tuesday, describing the attack as being "out of any proportion to any lawful punishment for shoplifting."

Yi's attorney, Rob Jones, countered that his client brandished the pistol in self-defense after being struck in the head upon exiting the store.

Dewberry, on the other hand, reaped the risk that "flows naturally and predictably" from criminal behavior, Jones told the panel.

"There's no question Mr. Dewberry suffered a severe and substantial injury," he said. "The question is whose fault is it, and should Mr. Yi be paying for it?"

The trial is expected to last at least three days. If the jury concludes that Yi was negligent, it will then decide on a financial award.

The lawsuit before 4th Judicial District Judge Thomas Kane is only the latest chapter in a saga surrounding the shooting.

During a Colorado Springs police investigation that ensued, Yi denied there had been a shooting, or even that he owned a gun, and he was arrested on suspicion of attempted murder.

Rather than file charges, prosecutors sent the case to a Grand Jury for what then-Assistant District Attorney Dan Zook called a "community determination" on whether to prosecute.

The panel met twice before it declined to hand up an indictment, and prosecutors dropped the case.

During an interview with The Gazette days afterward, Yi provided a vivid account of the encounter in the parking lot and attributed his survival to his past as a top-ranking Army Green Beret who was once wounded during a secret mission.

Discharge papers obtained by the newspaper, however, show Yi was a truck mechanic who saw no direct combat, throwing his credibility into question.

The clash with Dewberry came just more than a year after Yi was shot in the abdomen after police say he grabbed a robber's gun inside his store.

The robber fled and wasn't arrested, and Yi, who recovered from his wound, has since disputed the police account of the robbery, saying he was shot without warning and didn't try to intervene.

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