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Kidnap victim sues apartment complex owners

Lai Chau still has a bullet in her cheek, a reminder of when three men kidnapped her from her apartment complex and shot her three times.

She still holds the three men responsible for the attack. But in a lawsuit filed Tuesday, she has added another culprit to the list: the apartment complex where she lived.

The 14-page suit, filed in Hillsborough Circuit Court, claims that the complex's owner, Southstar Equity, and property manager, Brookside Properties, were negligent in the operation of the property.

The companies advertised that the property was secure and safe when, in reality, several of the safety features including the gate leading into the property were faulty, the suit states.

"They lied about the amount of crime and the security at the complex," Chau's lawyer, Barry Cohen, said Tuesday.

Officials with Southstar Equity and Brookside Properties in Tennessee could not be reached for comment.

According to police reports, Chau was attacked Dec. 13, 2001, when she entered the Remington Apartment Homes at 10610 N 30th St. She had parked her pink Acura Integra near her first-floor apartment and was about to get out of the car when two men ran toward her. One pointed a gun at her head and told her to move into the passenger seat, she said.

One man got into the driver's seat and another into the back seat. At one point, they stopped to talk to a third man following in another car, the reports said.

They took $40 from her purse and stopped behind Forest Hills Elementary on N Ola Street. The driver told her to get out, police said, and she started walking.

That's when one of the men _ police say it was Jabari "J.B." Armstrong _ shot Chau three times in the head. The men drove off and later torched her car, police said. Chau crawled to a nearby home and pleaded for help.

Tobaris Arrington told police that he, Armstrong and Anthony Smith _ the man in the other car _ had used cocaine before the attack and were looking for victims to rob so they could buy more drugs.

Arrington pleaded guilty to his part of the crime in December and agreed to testify against the other two, whose cases are still pending.

According to the suit, the property owners and managers told Chau when she was thinking of moving in that the gate was only open to residents, that there was not a lot of crime and that a security company patrolled the premises. The gate, however, remained open long enough for several cars to come in, Cohen said. And the defendants discontinued the security patrol without notifying the tenants, the suit said.

Cohen's firm also released documents showing that more than 700 calls for police service at the complex were recorded in the three years prior to Chau's attack.

On Tuesday, Chau, 21, sat next to Cohen at his law office and answered questions from reporters in short sentences and a quiet voice.

Doctors recently removed one of the bullets from Chau's neck. Cohen said the doctors have decided to leave the final bullet in as it is close to a nerve and could be dangerous to remove. She has a scar on her throat and another on the side of her neck. Her jaw remains numb.

Chau is seeing a therapist to help cope with the recurring nightmares, among other things.

"I cannot let that hold me back," she said.

_ Graham Brink can be reached at 226-3365 or