'Rising level of anger' among minority groups towards San Jose police

Four police officers in San Jose, California, are under criminal investigation after grainy video footage shows two of then hitting and Tasing an unarmed suspect.

A two-minute clip of cellphone video obtained by the San Jose Mercury-News shows officers Tasing and hitting 20-year-old Phuong Ho as he lay on the ground in the hallway of the apartment he shares with roommates.

Although the video is not entirely clear, one of the hits appears to come after Ho was already handcuffed. If that is the case, then the officers may have committed felony assault, a legal expert told the newspaper.

San Jose police arrested Ho on September 3 after an argument between the San Jose State math major and a roommate turned heated. At one point, after his roommate put soap on his steak, Ho brandished a knife and reportedly told the roommate that, in his native Vietnam, "I would kill you for this."

While some of the people in the room reportedly laughed at that comment, police were nonetheless called to the apartment. Officers attempted to arrest Ho when he tried to walk into his room as they were inspecting it. Ho was pushed into the hallway and knocked to the ground. That's when roommate Dimitri Masouris began surreptitiously filming the altercation.

Masouris is said to have sold his cellphone footage to Ho's lawyers.

The Mercury-News points out several "disturbing" elements seen in the video:

-- 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.

According to the NBC affiliate in the Bay Area, at least one officer involved in the incident was unable to understand Ho's Vietnamese accent.

An editorial in the Mercury-News says that the incident is likely to heighten tensions between minority communities and San Jose police, particularly within the Vietnamese community.

The paper points to an incident earlier this year, in which a mentally ill man of Vietnamese descent, Daniel Pham, was shot by police. Community members say the investigation into the death has been kept from the public. That follows a 2003 incident in which a young mother, Cau Bich Tran, was shot in her home by police. In all three cases, including the most recent, police were responding to domestic disturbance calls.

"There is a question larger than whether what happened was legal," states the Mercury-News editorial. "It is: Was it right? Is this how San Jose wants its police to deal with an unarmed man? And could it be part of a pattern that explains the rising level of anger and distrust of the police in minority communities?"

This video is from MercuryNews.com, released Oct. 24, 2009.

Download video via RawReplay.com