Video of Police Using Taser and Baton on Asian Exchange Student Prompts Investigation


SAN JOSE (Bay City News) — A criminal investigation has begun into the actions of four San Jose police officers, two of whom were captured on a cell phone camera using a baton and a Taser stun gun last month on a 20-year-old Vietnamese exchange student at San Jose State University.

Police Sgt. Ronnie Lopez said Oct. 26 that all four officers have been placed on paid administrative leave. They have been identified as officers Kenneth Siegel, Steven Payne Jr., Jerome Smith and Gabriel Reyes.

Lopez said the Police Department is reviewing evidence and statements related to the incident on Sept. 3 when the officers responded to a report of a man brandishing a knife at one of his roommates at their home in the 100 block of South 23rd Street.

Upon arrival, officers reported having a hard time getting the suspect, Phuong Quang Ho, to cooperate, Lopez said. Siegal used his baton and Payne used his Taser to control Ho and eventually took him into custody, Lopez said. He was arrested on suspicion of brandishing a weapon and resisting arrest.

The officers’ actions on the video, brought to the attention of the Police Department by a San Jose Mercury News reporter Oct. 22, led to a probe into the officers’ method of arrest.

Investigators will turn over their findings to the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office by Oct. 31 for review. Lopez said an administrative investigation would be launched afterward.

Lopez said that in the meantime, the Police Department has begun outreach efforts in San Jose, including to the Vietnamese American community.

Councilwoman Madison Nguyen, a Vietnamese American herself, said the community is concerned and seeking answers following another incident earlier this year in which she said police may have used excessive force.

On May 10, 27-year-old San Jose resident Daniel Pham was shot and killed by officers Matthew Blackerby and Brian Jeffrey.

The officers had responded to a report of a family disturbance at a home on Branbury Way, where they encountered Pham holding a knife.

Pham had allegedly refused to drop it and instead charged at the officers with the knife, prompting them to shoot him.

Nguyen said she was “greatly disturbed” by the new video, which shows a handcuffed Ho being beaten.

“It’s never necessary to use excessive force, especially on an unarmed civilian,” Nguyen said. “In this case that is what apparently happened.”

Nguyen said she is calling on the Police Department to conduct a thorough and speedy investigation into the matter. She said that along with Councilmen Sam Liccardo and Ash Kalra, she asks that if District Attorney Dolores Carr chooses to conduct a grand jury proceeding, that it be open to the public.

Lopez said the Police Department takes proactive efforts to “maintain the highest standards of conduct.” He encouraged anyone who may have been involved in a similar situation to call the Internal Affairs unit at (408) 277-4094 or the Office of the Independent Police Auditor at (408) 794-6226.

“We definitely take this compliant seriously,” Lopez said.

In a memo to the Rules and Open Government Committee regarding the criminal investigation, San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed requested that the committee consider releasing police records related to Ho’s arrest, including the police report, 911 tapes, additional audio and video tapes and force response reports.

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