Gwinnett couple sues over death of son, grandson in 2016 standoff

Thy Ho (Channel 2 Action News)

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Thy Ho (Channel 2 Action News)

The parents of a man who police said killed his two-year-old son and himself seven years ago in a Hamilton Mill house have sued Gwinnett and DeKalb counties and 14 people, claiming police killed their son and grandson and both counties are covering up the truth.

“There’s a lot of unanswered questions,” said Paul Wersant, the attorney for Buu Ho and Lien Nguyen, who are in their 80s and live in Norcross. “I find it hard to believe a government that isn’t trying to hide something is fighting so hard to withhold records after all this time.”

The federal lawsuit was filed last month.

The incident began one night in January 2016, when Ho and Nguyen’s son, Anh Thy Ho, got into an argument with the mother of his child in a Beyers Landing Drive house. Ho’s older stepchildren eventually called police to report a domestic disturbance.

Police said Anh Thy Ho had threatened to kill everyone inside the house, including himself. The mother of his child and her two older children left the house, but Anh Thy Ho barricaded himself inside with his son, Phillip.

A 19-hour standoff ensued, during which the Gwinnett SWAT team negotiated with Anh Thy Ho, enlisting his parents to help for some of the freezing night, according to the lawsuit. The DeKalb County SWAT team provided backup.

The standoff lasted until the afternoon of the following day, when police said they heard a gunshot and conducted an “explosive breach” into the master bedroom where Anh Thy and Phillip Ho were holed up. Police said they found Phillip with a gunshot wound and Anh Thy Ho shot himself as they entered. Both were taken to hospitals and died the same day.

At the time, police said the bodies would be turned over to the Gwinnett County Medical Examiner to determine an official cause of death, but the cause of death was never released, the lawsuit says.

There are no records of ballistics tests or tests for gunshot residue on Anh Thy Ho’s hands, according to the lawsuit. No audio or video records were released, or any evidence of an internal affairs or Georgia Bureau of Investigation inquiry into the incident, the lawsuit says.

The suit alleges police used excessive force and wrongfully caused the deaths of Anh Thy and Phillip Ho in violation of their civil rights, and that police illegally withheld Anh Thy Ho’s personal property from his parents after his death.

A Gwinnett County spokesperson declined to respond, citing a policy that the county does not comment on pending litigation.

The Gwinnett County Police Department in 2019 denied a records request by a private investigator, saying disclosing the information “is reasonably likely to disclose the identity of a confidential source, disclose confidential investigative or prosecution material which would endanger the life or physical safety of any person or persons, or disclose the existence of a confidential surveillance or investigation.”

The lawsuit names Phillip’s mother, Huyen Nguyen, and her daughter Vivian as defendants, as well as former Gwinnett County attorney Tuwanda Rush Williams and 10 anonymous Gwinnett and DeKalb police officers. Federal court does not allow anonymous defendants but Wersant said he would likely ask for an expedited discovery process to identify them.

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