Sean Webby, 5/12/11
Two years after a San Jose student’s violent and secretly videotaped arrest sparked community outrage, Phuong Ho has reached a legal settlement with the city, according to sources and an attorney for an officer who was fired for his part in the controversial bust. The settlement, which one source said was $225,000, must still be approved by a City Council vote.
In a federal lawsuit filed last year, Ho alleged the police violated his civil rights by using excessive force.
Ho, who is here from Vietnam studying to be an actuary, contended police had no reason to strike him with a metal baton more than a dozen times and use a Taser against him when they came to question him about an alleged threat in 2009.
He had originally sought $6 million in damages.
Neither City Attorney Rick Doyle nor Ho’s attorney Duyen Hoang Nguyen would comment when reached Wednesday. But Terry Bowman, who represents fired officer Kenneth Siegel, said: “There are a lot of reasons why the city would settle a suit that has nothing to do with innocence or guilt.”
Bowman added: “It’s a paltry settlement in light of what he sued for, so that tells you a lot right there.”
This newspaper first reported the existence of the cellphone video of the beating, igniting community protests and helping to spur a series of examinations of the use of force by members of the department. The murky, barely audible video was acquired and put online by this newspaper. For some, it became a symbol of a police department already under heavy fire for allegations of racial profiling and overaggressive policing of low-level crimes.
Ho’s lawsuit alleged that former Chief Rob Davis and the city established an environment in which officers “routinely” generate “false charges to cover up the use of excessive force.”
Ho had alleged that the officers violently overreacted on Sept. 3, 2009, when they were called after he picked up a knife and said something threatening to a roommate who had put soap on his steak.
Captured on cellphone by another roommate, the video shows an unarmed Ho seemingly cowering on the floor as Siegel strikes him repeatedly with a retractable baton and another officer zaps him with a stun gun.
Ho was charged with resisting arrest and brandishing a weapon.
The District Attorney’s Office dropped criminal charges against Ho and, after an extensive investigation, declined to indict the officers.
Late last year, the city fired Siegel. Bowman said the officer was seeking to get his job back through arbitration.
“I have every reason to believe that this miscarriage of justice would be corrected,” Bowman said.