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.
"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.
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.
It should be a felony to shoot people full of electricity for no good reason too.
I've been writing about this stuff for years now. And there are many, many examples of cops using the taser on people who are not violent, are in custody, and are on the ground. It happens all the time. What distinguishes this incident is that it's considered excessive force to administer the baton blows, but not the taser.
You tell me if you can distinguish those screams of pain were from blows or the taser? And why should it matter?
And, by the way, they both leave marks:
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.