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San Jose police investigating alleged beating of student by officers

Alleged incident occurred last month and became public when a cellphone video showing an officer apparently using a baton on a Vietnamese university student was posted on a newspaper website.

October 26, 2009|Anna Gorman

The San Jose Police Department is conducting a criminal investigation into the alleged videotaped beating of an unarmed university student by two police officers during an arrest last month, a spokesman for the department said Sunday.

A grainy cellphone video posted on the San Jose Mercury News website shows at least one police officer subduing the student with a baton. The San Jose State student can be heard screaming on the recording. Police had been called to a home Sept. 3 after a report that the student, Phuong Ho, was fighting with his roommate, police said.

The department is conducting a "thorough investigation" that will be turned over to the Santa Clara County district attorney's office for review, Sgt. Ronnie Lopez said.

Lopez said the department launched the investigation immediately after learning about the incident late last week. Investigators are interviewing witnesses and reviewing the posted cellphone video, along with other video.

"Our investigators are reviewing this entire case from beginning to end," he said. "They want to make sure that the force used was necessary."

Two officers, Kenneth Siegel and Steven Payne Jr., are seen on the video, police said. Two other officers were also at the scene. All four are on administrative leave.

After the criminal inquiry is completed, Lopez said, the department's internal affairs unit will also conduct an administrative investigation to determine whether there was any wrongdoing. In addition to possible criminal charges, the officers could face discipline ranging from a formal letter of reprimand to termination.

Lopez said the department also plans to review whether additional training is needed.

Ho, 20, was charged with brandishing a knife and resisting arrest, Lopez said.

Ho's attorney, Duyen Nguyen, said Sunday that his client didn't resist arrest and had brought out the knife to prepare dinner after the altercation with the roommate had ended. Nguyen said the fight, which escalated from verbal to physical, had ended by the time the police arrived.

"There is nothing to justify the use of force," Nguyen said. "We hear all the screaming and the sounds of the baton -- 'tut-tut-tut' -- against human flesh. It was very brutal."

Nguyen said he planned to file a lawsuit against the city.

In a telephone interview Sunday, Ho, who arrived from Vietnam two years ago to study math and finance, said one officer pushed him against the wall of his room and hit him with his hand. Then, he said, as many as four officers began hitting him with a baton and one used the Taser on him. One baton strike, he said, occurred after he was handcuffed. Ho said he hadn't understood what the police officers wanted him to do, in part because English is his second language.

"I don't think they treated me like human," he said. "I think things need to change so this police brutality doesn't happen to other people."

--

anna.gorman@latimes.com

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