The family of a 19-year-old Lanham man slain by a Prince George's policeman last month held a news conference yesterday to defend the character of the youth, who police said tried to grab another officer's gun outside the West Lanham Hills Fire Department.

"This was totally out of character for Gary," Marion Gray-Hopkins said of her son, Gary Albert Hopkins Jr. "Gary was caring and raised to be respectful of adults. We're not looking for financial rewards. We're looking for Gary's name to be vindicated."

At the news conference at his Hyattsville office, attorney Walter L. Blair also announced that the family plans a wrongful-death action. "From our preliminary information, we're looking at a $10 million to $50 million lawsuit against the person or persons responsible for this," he said.

Blair said the law firm of Johnnie L. Cochran Jr., who led the successful defense in O.J. Simpson's murder case, is heading the investigation and might enter the case. Rachel Noerdlinger, a spokeswoman for Cochran in New York, confirmed that the high-profile lawyer's associates are looking into the case to determine whether Cochran will become involved.

"Most likely, he'll take it on," she said.

The two officers involved in the shooting have been placed on paid administrative leave pending an internal investigation. "It is still an open case," a department spokesman said yesterday. Meanwhile, the FBI has opened a civil rights investigation into Hopkins's death.

The shooting occurred about 2:30 a.m. Nov. 27 after a melee broke out at a party at the fire department. Two off-duty police officers, hired to provide security, were told by someone in the crowd that three men sitting outside in a car had been involved in the fight and were carrying weapons, police said.

The officers called for backup, and Officer Devin C. White soon arrived. White approached the car with his gun drawn and told the three men inside, including Hopkins, to get out with their hands up, according to police accounts.

Hopkins lunged at White while getting out of the car and tried to grab his gun, police said. Off-duty Officer Brian C. Catlett then fired one fatal shot into Hopkins's chest, police said.

Hopkins, of the 9700 block of Woodberry Street in Lanham, was the sixth person to die this year after allegedly struggling with Prince George's police.

Marion Gray-Hopkins said she is organizing a candlelight vigil for her son, which she hopes to hold Saturday at the shooting site.