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.
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
"It takes me back to the day I saw the Rodney King video on TV," said Roger Clark, a certified policing expert and a retired lieutenant with the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department, where he served for 27 years.
San Jose Police Assistant Chief Daniel Katz, after being shown the video by the newspaper, said the department takes the matter "very seriously."
The video shows police standing over Ho in a hallway of his house for more than two minutes. During that time, one officer strikes Ho with a metal baton more than 10 times — at times swinging it with both hands — while another officer leans in and uses his Taser gun. The Mercury News was unable to reach either officer seen using force during the incident, despite written requests sent both through department officials and their union.
The roommate who made the video, Dimitri Masouris, said he considered the police response unnecessary and excessive. The roommate sold the tape to Duyen Hoang Nguyen, the San Jose lawyer now representing Ho.
Among the issues noted by the outside experts:
* 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.
* 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.
*The final baton strike appears to occur after the handcuffs can be heard snapping onto Ho's wrists. That particularly troubled several outside experts.
"That's a felony," said Clark.
David M. Grossi, a Florida-based law enforcement trainer and an expert on the use of police force, was also troubled.
"That is not what can be construed at first blush to be reasonable force," said Grossi, who was a lieutenant and training commander with the New York Police Department.
Added Frank Jordan, a former San Francisco police chief and mayor: "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?"
Not all experts acknowledged concern. Thomas J. Aveni, executive director of The Police Policy Studies Council, said the poor quality of the video made conclusions impossible. But he said: "Batons are largely ineffectual with contemporary baton designs, and baton usage always looks worse than what it actually was when videotaped."
nd Kansas force trainer Brian Kinnard, who often testifies for police in court, said he saw nothing untoward, adding that the question of whether force is "reasonable" depends on the circumstances.
Ho, who has no criminal record, 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."
The incident occurred after a Sept. 3 encounter between Ho and roommate Jeremy Suftin that began when Suftin slopped soap on Ho's dinner steak. The two scuffled, and Ho picked up a steak knife, saying that in Vietnam, "I would kill you for this." At least some roommates laughed at the comment, as shown on a videotape of that portion of the incident. But Suftin said he took it seriously, and the police were called. At least four officers responded.
According to police reports obtained by the Mercury News, officer Kenneth Siegel could not understand Ho's accent when he confronted him in a hallway and asked his name. Ho then ignored a command to stand still after officers entered his room to check his wallet for identification.
When Ho tried to follow Siegel into his room, officer Steven Payne Jr. attempted to handcuff Ho. According to his report, Payne pushed Ho into a wall and then forced him to the hallway floor when Ho resisted being handcuffed. Ho said his glasses fell off then, and as he attempted to pick them up, the officers struck him.
It was then that Masouris captured the events on his Motorola ROKR cell phone.
That video shows officers surrounding a suspect on the ground. An officer repeatedly strikes Ho with a metal baton as he can be heard shouting, "Turn over!"
Ho acknowledged in the interview that he did not turn over immediately; he says he was blindly groping for his glasses.
"How could I resist arrest?" Ho said. "I didn't even touch them."
The police report cites several times Ho's imposing size — 6 feet tall and 220 pounds, according to the report. Ho's California ID says he is that tall. But in fact he is 5 feet 9 inches tall and at least 10 pounds lighter. In their reports, the officers wrote that Ho was "kicking in a violent manner" at them — an account that experts questioned based on the video. "He is begging," Clark said. "This is not resistance."
Jordan said he was concerned why, with multiple officers at the scene — there were at least two other officers present, according to police reports — it was not possible to control Ho without using weapons.
Ho suffered one baton strike to his head. The experts noted that head strikes, which are potentially lethal, are especially dangerous and should be used against suspects only when potentially lethal force is appropriate.
The police reports say the blow to the head occurred when a baton bounced off Ho's shoulder.
Toward the end of the incident, the officer who had mostly been observing leans down; the audio suggests he used a Taser gun on Ho at that point.
The audio and video indicate Ho is then handcuffed, after which one more baton strike appears to occur.
The police reports identify Payne as the officer who deployed the Taser, and Siegel as the officer who used his baton repeatedly.
Robert Brennan, former police chief of Atherton, said he jumped when he saw that last baton strike.
"If this was my officer doing this, I'd be very concerned with it," said Brennan, a retired Palo Alto commander who now works as a San Mateo County Sheriff's deputy. "I think it's kind of like the Rodney King thing."
Siegel documents at least 10 baton strikes in his police report. But there is no mention in his report of the last baton strike.
Masouris and his son, Nicholas, were both eyewitnesses to the event. Both said it appeared to them that the police used excessive force, including striking Ho after he was handcuffed. Dimitri Masouris said he falsely told police at the time that the force appeared warranted, because he feared the result if they thought "that I was against them." Added Nicholas Masouris: "I thought it was completely unnecessary. All he was screaming for was his glasses."
At the hospital, the police report said, Ho was treated for a Taser burn and received staples to close several wounds, including the blow to his head. Siegel reported that he strained his right wrist during the incident.
After he spent most of the night in jail, Ho was released, then limped home. It took him two hours, he said, ruefully laughing about his television-bred misconception that officers would offer him a ride home. When he got home, he cleaned up and walked to his morning finance class. He was 30 minutes late.
|The poll already expired - voting is no longer possible!|
In: LiveLeaks, Citizen Journalism
Tags: san jose, police, beatdown, attack, brutal, violence, abuse, cop, cops, ghastlyghost, 2009, california
Marked as: repost
Views: 12150 | Comments: 26 | Votes: 1 | Favorites: 0 | Shared: 2 | Updates: 0 | Times used in channels: 2
|Liveleak on Facebook|