LONG BEACH — After 10 days of waiting to see and learn the condition of their ailing son as he was confined to a hospital bed in police custody, Yorn Eng and Heng Hean were finally allowed to visit him Thursday at St. Mary Medical Center.
Just hours after a story was posted at Presstelegram.com about the anguish of the parents and family of Sokha Hor, who was shot by Long Beach police Jan. 7, officers took the parents to see their son.
Hean and Eng said through a translator that being kept in the dark by police had stirred memories of their native Cambodia, where they both lost family members to the brutal Khmer Rouge regime more than 35 years ago.
On Thursday, they said their son showed movement and briefly opened his eyes, although he was heavily sedated.
"When she got to see him, her heart felt more at ease after all the not knowing," Hong Hor said, translating for his mother.
Long Beach Police allowed the parents to spend a half-hour with their son, and the family said it was told it would be granted access once a week for a half-hour, with a limit of two visitors while Sokha Hor remained in the hospital.
Hong Hor said he was told the police were making a special arrangement for the family not normally afforded to families of those hospitalized in custody.
"We hope this shows we're understanding of certain circumstances," said Sgt. Aaron Eaton of the Long Beach Police Department.
Sokha Hor, 22, a known gang member, was shot and wounded by police who were searching for him in connection with a burglary after he allegedly drew a gun on police detectives in an alley off East Fourth Street near Cherry Ave.
Detectives said they found a handgun near Hor and later found two assault rifles. He faces a list of felony charges including assault with a semiautomatic weapon on a peace officer and was arrested while in the hospital and remains under guard and in custody.
What troubled, hurt and angered the family in the days following the incident and Sokha Hor's hospitalization was that they said they received only scant and contradictory information on his condition.
The family said they were alternately told Sokha Hor was on life support and that he was stable. On Wednesday night, they said they had not been contacted since Monday.
Eaton said detectives reached out to contact the family early on Wednesday but their calls were not returned.
Hong Hor said on Thursday that he had learned that his brother was battling pneumonia and on a ventilator.
"He is recovering," he said. "He's not out of the danger zone. It's day by day."
Eaton said family members were allowed to talk to doctors about Sokha Hor's condition and would be allowed weekly visits with certain limits and conditions he would not detail.
Hor would remain in custody at St. Mary Medical Center until he was healthy enough to be transported to a jail hospital facility at County USC Medical Center, Eaton said. Once there, he and the family would be subject to that facility's prisoner visitation policies.
Eaton said part of the reason for the difficulty with Hor's family arose because the man was in police custody and the normal rules of the release of hospital information don't apply.
"The big part is he's in technical custody of the police and there's not a protocol or provision for prisoner visitation in a hospital," Eaton said Wednesday.
Generally, he said, no contact with prisoners in hospitals is allowed because of concerns about evidence, safety and other issues. He said this is particularly true because the Sokha Hor case is active and ongoing.
"We have a whole host of investigative concerns," Eaton said.
But, he added, "We're cognizant that a lot of people are touched by this issue and we're trying to address it as best we can."
Meanwhile, family members said despite the acts Sokha Hor may have committed, they were made to suffer.
"We're still very disappointed. It took too long," said Hong Hor, an older brother who flew from his home in Maine with his father when they learned of the shooting.
"I felt like I had been shot in the chest," he said.
The family said they didn't even know Sokha Hor had been shot until they read about it at Presstelegram.com.
"I felt like I can't do anything, they wouldn't even tell me he was (at the hospital,)" Sokha Hor's sister Connie Hor said of her first attempts to learn information. "I can't even explain how that makes you feel."
Eaton confirmed that the hospital cannot release information on a patient in police custody, even to next of kin.
He said only the detectives handling the case could release information, adding that "we are cautious to speak about medical issues because we are not versed on this. We have to take what the hospital gives us."
The family said Wednesday that the parents, who lost siblings and six children during the genocidal reign of the Khmer Rouge that killed upwards of 2 million in the mid-1970 s, felt betrayed.
On Thursday, however, the mood was definitely lighter than the evening before when it was unknown when or if the family would be able to see Sokha Hor.
When asked what her son was like, Eng smiled for the first time and pointed at a picture of Sokha Hor as a boy holding a fishing rod.
"He's a good kid," Hong Hor said. "Before he got involved in anything he loved fishing. He was always very affectionate."
Sokha Hor attended Poly High but didn't graduate, the family said.
Prior to his altercation with the police, Hor's adult criminal record consisted of a theft conviction in 2009 and another for littering in 2010, according to Los Angeles County Superior Court records.
Family members are still dismayed that they were unable to see Hor for so long and were kept in the dark about his condition.
"She thinks it's unmoral for her to be denied seeing him," Hong Hor said Wednesday, translating for his mother.
The family had organized a demonstration for 1 p.m. Sunday outside St. Mary Medical Center. They said those plans are now up in the air.