A Los Angeles Superior Court jury found late last month that the jewelry store where the theft occurred was largely responsible for the bullet wound to Mogford's lung, liver and colon. The store owners disagree and plan to contest the verdict, saying they should not be held accountable for the acts of a Good Samaritan.
"We want to discourage this kind of suit and this kind of behavior," said Noel E. Macaulay, attorney for defendant Ben Bridge Jewelers.
As for the actions that won Mogford a hero's recognition, Macaulay said: "He just should not have done that. . . . It's quite dangerous."
The jury determined total damages in the case to be $119,267, but found that Mogford was 30% liable for his injuries. That means Mogford is eligible to collect no more than $83,486 if the verdict stands.
Circumstances in the case and the jury's decision to hold Mogford partially responsible for his own injuries raise questions about what bystanders should do if they see a crime in progress.
Even though direct citizen action is officially discouraged, law enforcement officials and community leaders applauded Mogford's actions by naming him Redondo Beach Citizen of the Year in 1987, a year after the shooting.
Redondo Beach Police Chief Roger M. Moulton recommended Mogford for the award, praising him for his spontaneous desire to help. Even then, however, police discouraged similar actions by untrained bystanders who witness a crime.
"We don't want witnesses jeopardizing their own safety," Moulton said in a recent interview. "If you are being robbed or see a robbery, don't resist or try to get involved. . . . Get a description, a license number, and get the information to the police."
Mogford himself now has second thoughts about that near-fatal day.
"I wouldn't do it again. . . . Nothing is worth getting shot," he said. His advice is the same as Moulton's: "If you see a robbery, use your eyes, remember what you see . . . and call the police."
Mogford said he felt vindicated by the jury's verdict and resentful of the store's attempt to blame him for his good intentions.
At the time of the shooting--Feb. 15, 1986--Mogford and his fiancee were shopping for wedding rings in Ben Bridge Jewelers. The thief grabbed a $29,900 diamond ring from an open case. As the clerk screamed for help, Mogford chased and grabbed the robber from behind.
"My first reaction was to help, it was instinctive," Mogford said. "I didn't think of the consequences."
With Mogford hanging on his back, the robber pulled a small caliber pistol from under his belt and fired over his shoulder, witnesses said. The bullet entered Mogford's shoulder and hit his lung, liver and colon, reports show.
"I didn't even hear the shot," Mogford said in a recent interview. He said the robber broke free, turned around and fired again. "It all happened so fast, the guy was backing away and still shooting. . . . I ran back inside (the store) to warn them."
It wasn't until he returned to the store that he realized he was wounded.
The thief fled the scene and was caught five days later, according to police. Colton J. Simpson, 26, eventually pleaded guilty to robbery, assault with a deadly weapon and attempted murder, Redondo Beach police reported. Simpson is serving a 24-year prison sentence, they said.
By May, 1986, Mogford had recovered sufficiently to marry his fiancee, Ellyn, and to go back to work as a cement truck driver. They now have a baby girl.
Mogford's attorney, Robert S. Scuderi, argued that the managers of Ben Bridge Jewelers in the Galleria were liable for Mogford's injuries because they did not do enough to protect their customers from the robber.
"The bad guy (Simpson) had been hanging around (casing the store) for a week," Scuderi said. On the day of the robbery, the store manager evicted Simpson from the store, but he came back and asked to see some cheap jewelry. When the case was opened, he grabbed the diamond ring, Scuderi said.
"The store owner did not show ordinary care. They (store managers and clerks) knew there was a problem . . . they had an obligation to protect their customers," Scuderi said. The store should have alerted police or mall security forces before the robbery, he said.
Jewelry store attorney Macaulay sharply disagreed, saying there was nothing in the history of the store or the mall to indicate a robbery or shooting was likely to happen. The store managers had no reason to suspect Simpson, he said.
The jury's award compensates Mogford for medical expenses, lost earnings and general pain and suffering.
The Galleria has already paid Mogford $10,000 in a negotiated settlement. The jewelry store's attorney said he will ask to have the remaining $73,486 set aside by the trial judge or appeal the case to a higher court.