Vietnamese San Jose State Student Beaten By San Jose Cops

I’m an alumna of San Jose State University, San Jose, California.

Go Spartans…

I graduated from there in 1976, the Bicentennial Year. Things were pretty quiet by the time I arrived there in 1972. Some of the football team lived on the fourth floor of my dorm, Markham Hall. There was no campus activism. The Hog Farm visited once. I saw my first adult movie at the student union auditorium…no, not Morris Dailey. There was no John Carlos or Tommie Smith. Even the Greeks were quiet. The only excitement came from a (for that time) hotly-contested student election; former president and S.F. State faculty alum John Bunzel, taking a cue from S.I. Hayakawa, messing with the econ department over some lefty profs; Jessica Mitford’s residency at State, and Hunter S. Thompson’s occasional campus visits. Yep, it was relatively quiet.

If you think cops only beat up blacks or Latinos, get real. They will beat up on just about anybody, given half a chance. It’s just that people of color get the nightstick oftener, and often with no real reason to get violent.

Police brutality against people of color has got to stop now. I mean, I feel as if I am looking at the Sixties all over again, when the Panthers first organized against this kind of thing. Just because cops are given a gun and a nightstick is not permission to beat up anyone any time they feel like it. These kinds of cops need to be landed on HARD. The more they do this kind of thing, the more lawsuits will be filed, the more cities and towns around the country will have to pay up.

This is what happened in September; the whole story is just coming out now with the release of this video on YouTube. I never got to finish watching the video. Ho’s cries were just too much for me to take.

A cell phone video shows San Jose police officers repeatedly using batons and a Taser gun on an unarmed San Jose State student, including at least one baton strike that appears to come after the man is handcuffed, as they took him into custody inside his home last month.

The video, made by one of the student’s roommates without the knowledge of police, shows that force was used even though the suspect was on the ground, and apparently offering no physical threat to the officers. Several experts in police force said the video appears to document excessive — and possibly illegal — force by the officers. A police spokesman Friday said the department had opened a criminal investigation of the officers’ conduct, after police officials viewed a copy of the recording.

Phuong Ho

Phuong Ho, 20, was beaten and Tasered in September by San Jose police in response to a housemate's call (Courtesy: Mercury-News)

The confrontation arose as Phuong Ho, a 20-year-old math major from Ho Chi Minh City, was arrested on suspicion of assaulting another of his roommates. He faces pending misdemeanor charges of exhibiting a deadly weapon and resisting arrest. Ho admits picking up a knife as he argued with a roommate. He was not armed when police arrived.

Experts cautioned that the grainy, shaky video, a copy of which was obtained by the Mercury News last week from Ho’s lawyers, is difficult to view and may not depict critical actions by Ho that justify the response. Nevertheless, four of the six experts who reviewed the video at the request of the newspaper said it raises serious concerns.

And what were those concerns?  Again, from the San Jose Mercury-News story:

  1. Ho remains on the ground, moaning and crying, as he is repeatedly struck. He does not appear to offer significant resistance, suggesting the high level of force is not necessary.
  2. The officer most visible in the sequence stands for much of the time in a casual posture, at one point with his legs crossed. He seems to show no concern that the situation is potentially dangerous — raising additional questions about why force was being used.
  3. The final baton strike appears to occur after the handcuffs can be heard snapping onto Ho’s wrists.

Retired L.A. sheriff’s deputy and former lieutenant Roger Clark, a certified policing expert, declared that the third concern constituted “a felony.”  David Grossi from Florida, a law enforcement trainer and an expert on the use of police force said, “That is not what can be construed at first blush to be reasonable force.” Grossi was once a lieutenant and training commander with the New York Police Department.

Even former San Francisco mayor Frank Jordan, who was also a former San Francisco police chief, had to admit,  “Once he is handcuffed, then he is helpless. If you can show that his hands are behind his back, and he is handcuffed, that is where you get brutality. That would be excessive force. You have him in custody. This is one last coup de grace. Is that really necessary?”

Two of the experts the Mercury-News called upon, though, did not think that the video raised any concerns.  Thomas Aveni of the Police Policy Studies Council, said that the poor quality of the video made it impossible for him to come to a reasonable conclusion.  He said that the repeated use of a baton made the situation worse than what it really was. 

Oh, really?

And Brian Kinnard, who has previously testified on behalf of cops in cases questioning the use of force in the deaths or maiming of suspects, said that he saw nothing wrong, suggesting “that the question of whether force is ‘reasonable’ depends on the circumstances.”

Boy, those last two would get off Johannes Mehserle.  It’s no wonder that cops feel that they can get away with this kind of thing repeatedly and with their jobs and careers intact.  Meanwhile, there’s not enough money in the Universe or deeply-felt apologies from politicians or police that can ever bring back the lives of thousands of people who were just blown away for absolutely nothing, or have less productive lives because they are in a wheelchair or are emotionally scarred.

All the cops should have done was ask what was up, and interviewed both Suftin and Ho separately. Then it would have been up to Suftin to make a decision to press charges. If Suftin wouldn’t, then the incident would have been over. Instead, these idiots came in like gangbusters when the altercation was probably way over.

In a related story, the four cops involved in the beating and arrest of Phuong Ho have been placed on paid leave pending an investigation.

[…]Kenneth Siegel used his baton, and officer Steven Payne Jr. used his Taser gun to subdue Ho, whom the reports describe as violently kicking and refusing to comply with their orders as they attempted to place Ho in handcuffs.

But the grainy video, taken by one of Ho’s roommates, documents more than 10 baton strikes as well as Taser gun usage that some experts contacted by the Mercury News described as excessive and potentially criminal.

Police officials said Siegel and Payne, as well as two other officers who were at the scene — Jerome Smith and Gabriel Reyes — were placed on leave while their internal review proceeds.

And the kicking that the former cops were talking about? Probably not from Ho begging for mercy, but from the Tasering. The body always jerks from the charge of several hundred volts. The kicking was not intentional. These guys were total idiots; on top of the blunt force to the head and the Tasering, Ho could have died.

Phuong Ho has no criminal record. He lived in the student ghetto around San Jose State with several housemates. The incident in question? Some dishwater soap was either deliberately or accidentally slopped onto Ho’s dinner steak. He and the housemate with the dishwater, Jeremy Suftin, fought briefly, but when Ho picked up a steak knife, and said that in Vietnam, he could kill Suftin for such an act, Suftin freaked out. A couple of the other housemates who witnessed the incident actually laughed at what Ho had said, but Suftin called the cops.

Housemate Dimitri Masouris, who secretly cell-phone recorded the attack on Ho, said he considered the police response “unnecessary and excessive.” Masouris then sold the video to Duyen Hoang Nguyen, the San Jose lawyer now representing Ho, most probably to support Ho’s case against the cops.

Ho […] told the Mercury News last week that he was not resisting arrest that September night, but that he was desperately looking for his thick, high-prescription glasses, which flew off as police shoved him. He said he was then stunned by the blows that followed.

“In philosophy, they call it ‘dehumanization,’ ” Ho said. “So when they think me a dangerous guy, they don’t treat me like I was human. They hit me like an animal or something.”

Well, either Suftin or Ho is going to have to look for a new home. The Vietnamese community in San Jose (and probably elsewhere) is no doubt highly upset about this incident, and in my view, it’s justified. (Welcome to America, people. Now you know how it is for the rest of us.) Nothing like this, to my memory, ever happened to SJSU students. I wasn’t around for Dow Chemical–I’m not that old. And so it’s no wonder that because of incidents like these, cops are distrusted all over.

~ by blksista on October 26, 2009.

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