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FOX 13 Investigates: Family sues Utah police investigating how daughter died

Posted at 7:05 PM, Jul 03, 2023

SALT LAKE CITY — Rena Nguyen left the California Bay Area to attend Brigham Young University.

“Her parents believed this would be a good place for her,” said Jake Taylor, a Salt Lake City attorney representing Nguyen’s parents. “She believed it would be a great place for her.”

Nguyen’s boyfriend called Orem Police Oct. 1, 2021, to say Nguyen shot herself in the head with a handgun. Her family is skeptical of that story, Taylor says, but the lawsuit they recently filed in state court focuses more on what happened in the months before Nguyen’s death.

The lawsuit says Nguyen, who died at age 20, twice told Orem Police that her boyfriend was physically and sexually abusive to her. The lawsuit, citing Orem Police’s own written reports, said Nguyen told officers her boyfriend “held a gun to her face.”

“That abuse was ongoing,” Taylor said. “It was documented.

“Orem Police Department simply failed to act.”

Neither a representative of the police department nor the boyfriend returned FOX 13’s requests for comment.

The boyfriend has not been charged with domestic violence nor homicide. FOX 13 News is not naming him.

Utah law specifies peace officers shall confiscate weapons involved in domestic violence, and, when reasonable cause exists, arrest or cite abusers. Yet after Nguyen became reluctant or unwilling to leave her boyfriend or cooperate with investigators, reports show Orem Police closed the matters with no further action.

The Nguyens are not the first family to accuse a Utah police department of not following the law on domestic violence.

In 2021, Gabby Petito was suspected of assaulting her boyfriend, Brian Laundrie, as they passed through Moab. Laundrie is believed to have later killed Petito in Wyoming before dying by suicide.

Even though Petito was suspected of having been the aggressor in Moab, her family has sued police there, alleging officers’ failure to follow the law on domestic violence investigations contributed to Petito’s death. Moab has denied liability. The lawsuit remains pending in state court.

When asked whether his clients think Nguyen was murdered, Taylor replied: “It seems that way. The evidence indicates that. However, we don’t know that for sure.

“As far as we understand it, the Orem Police Department is continuing its investigation.”

The detective who applied for the search warrant wrote that the boyfriend’s “facts are inconsistent” with the evidence.

Nguyen was right-handed, but the entry wound was on the left side of her head, the search warrant says.

And blood pooled in a way that “conflicts with the natural gravitational pull.”

The detective also wrote that the pistol fired was without a magazine, but there was still one round in the chamber when police found it. Semiautomatic weapons cannot store more than one round without a magazine.

“But regardless of whether he pulled the trigger or if she pulled the trigger,” Taylor said, “our clients’ position is the Orem Police Department failed to act.

“If they had arrested him or seized his weapons or both, she would be alive today.”

The Nguyens filed their lawsuit in state court. They are asking for damages to be proven at trial.

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Resources for domestic violence victims/prevention (free, 24/7, confidential):

  • Utah Domestic Violence Coalition
    • Hotline: 1-800-897-LINK (5465)
    • Online help: udvc.org
  • National Domestic Violence Hotline
  • If you or someone else is in immediate danger, or in an emergency, call 9-1-1 immediately.

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For those struggling with thoughts of suicide, the National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline can now be reached by simply dialing 988 any time for free support. Resources are also available online at utahsuicideprevention.org.

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