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Police Assault Caught on Camera

POSTED: Monday, October 26, 2009 - 7:10am

UPDATED: Thursday, June 3, 2010 - 10:59pm

A cell phone video that shows police officers repeatedly hitting an unarmed university student with batons and a Taser gun has prompted a criminal investigation into the officers' conduct, a San Jose, California police spokesman said.

The video, posted by the San Jose Mercury News on its Web site late Saturday, shows one officer hitting 20-year-old Vietnamese student Phuong Ho with a metal baton more than 10 times, including once on the head. Another officer is seen using his Taser gun on the San Jose State math major.

The final baton strike in last month's incident appears to take place after handcuffs have been attached to Ho's wrists.

"It takes me back to the day I saw the Rodney King video on TV," said Roger Clark, a police expert and a retired lieutenant with the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department.

The last baton strike ought to bring a felony charge, Clark said.

Officers arrested Ho on suspicion of assaulting one of his roommates. He was not armed when police arrived and he told the newspaper he didn't resist arrest.

The confrontation began Sept. 3 when Ho's roommate, Jeremy Suftin, put soap on Ho's steak. The two scuffled, and Ho picked up a steak knife, saying that in his home country he would have killed Suftin for doing what he did.

Police were called, and four officers responded.

Officer Kenneth Siegel encountered Ho in the hallway, but couldn't understand the student's accent, police reports said. Ho then ignored a police command to stand still, reports said.

When Ho tried to follow Siegel into his room, officer Steven Payne Jr. moved to handcuff Ho. Payne wrote in his report that he pushed the student into a wall and then forced him to the floor when he resisted being handcuffed.

Ho, who weighs more than 200 lbs., said his glasses fell off. As he went to pick them up, the officers struck him, he said.

Another one of Ho's roommates, Dimitri Masouris, captured the events on his cell phone. An officer can be heard on the video shouting, "Turn over!" Ho can be heard moaning and crying as he's struck.

"In philosophy, they call it 'dehumanization,"' Ho told the Mercury News. "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."

Masouris said he considered the police response excessive. He sold the tape to San Jose lawyer Duyen Hoang Nguyen, who is representing Ho.

The Mercury News obtained a copy of the video and showed it to Daniel Katz, San Jose's assistant police chief. The police department is taking the matter very seriously, he said.

San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed said the incident would be investigated by the internal affairs division of the San Jose Police Department and the results forwarded to the Santa Clara County district attorney for possible criminal prosecution.