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July 16, 2003

More than 100 people march in protest of S.J. shooting

By Glennda Chui

San Jose, CA (Mercury News) - More than 100 people gathered today at the home of a woman who was shot by San Jose police before marching to City Hall and police headquarters to protest the slaying.

``We don't want this to happen to you or me or anybody, black or white or yellow,'' Kim Tran, father of Cau Thi Tran. The mother of two was shot Sunday night at her East Taylor Street duplex. Officers had been sent there to investigate a report of an unsupervised child.

``When a police officer puts on a uniform and a gun he takes on the duty for the safety of the people and the security of the community,'' Tran, speaking through a translator, told the crowd before the march began.

``But all it takes is one minute of carelessness, one second of anger and one long step and that safety and security will be destroyed,'' he added.

Mourners set up a shrine in front of the house with a photo of Cau Thi Tran wearing a hat decked with flowers along with a photo of her with her two sons. The shrine, flanked by flag of the United States and the historic flag of the Republic of Vietnam, also featured flowers, candles, and two white teddy bears.

A memorial fund to help the slain woman's family has been established and people made donations by placing money in a cardboard box in front of the house.

``All it takes is a little compassion, a little gentleness, a little carefulness and respect and things would have been different,'' Kim Tran, Cau Thi Tran's father, said. ` ``Please all speak up and speak out to prevent senseless killings from happening again.''

The march drew friends, family members, neighbors and strangers who had heard about the shooting.

Demonstrators carried signs with photos of the slain woman and placards emblazoned with messages such as ``Arm police with options'' ``SJPD must change its procedures,'' ``No more senseless killings,'' and `Deadly force should be a last resort.''

Tiffanie Nguyen, 33, of San Jose, a family friend, said she was shocked when she learned of the shooting. She came to the march with her mother, sister and niece. ``I'm not sure what's right or wrong.,'' she said. ``I was not at the scene. I'm just here for support.''

Many of the demonstrators demanded that police take steps so this never happens again.

Virginia Canedo, 31, who lives around the corner from the family came with her mother, aunt, sister and cousins. She said she she did not know the Tran family, but ``every single day I saw her walk by. We never talked, but we knew her. I think that's unfair what the police. It's unnecessary.''

Others said they wanted to send a message to the city that Cau Thi Tran's death was unacceptable.

Speaking to the gathering outside of city hall, Madison Nguyen, 28, a member of the Franklin-McKinley school board called for change.

``It seems to me at this point in time, that this tragic accident happened because of miscommunication,'' she said.

She urged the police department to conduct a thorough investigation as soon as possible, to recruit more Vietnamese police officers, and to train officers to be more sensitive to various cultures in the community.

San Jose police are conducting an investigation into the incident. The officer involved has been placed on administrative leave. Additionally, the grand jury will review the case.

Nam Nguyen, 39, of United Asian Foundation, said his young son recently told him that he wanted to be a police officer. ``What do I tell him now?'' he asked the crowd.

``We come here to demand action. As American citizens, we have a right to ask. We do not condemn the police officer. We just want the truth.''


S.J. police defend officer's action

By Rodney Foo

San Jose, CA (Mercury News) - Faced with questions about the fatal shooting of a woman in her kitchen, San Jose police took the extraordinary step Tuesday of displaying the weapon they say she used to threaten two officers moments before one of them fired his gun.

It was a dao bao, which is commonly used to peel vegetables in Southeast Asian kitchens, but which police call a cleaver.

The nature of the kitchen implement has suddenly assumed importance in the controversy surrounding the death of Cau Thi Tran, a 25-year-old mother of two who was shot Sunday night at her East Taylor Street duplex. Officers had been sent there to investigate a report of an unsupervised child.

Tran's death has prompted more than a dozen calls from angry citizens to community organizations and police, claiming the department used excessive force, an allegation police deny. They say evidence will bear them out.

The outrage over Tran's death has been fueled, in part, by its swiftness -- she was shot within two to 55 seconds after the officers entered, depending on various accounts -- and whether she posed a threat at all.

In addition, family members and a neighbor dispute police accounts that both officers were in the house when the fatal shot was fired.

In what may be a cultural clash of semantics, family members say Tran was holding the dao bao when officer Chad Marshall fired a single 9mm slug that punctured her aorta.

``It was a peeler!'' said Linh Bui, the brother of Dang Bui, Tran's boyfriend.

But police describe the weapon as a cleaver with a six-inch blade.

``A cleaver is what I'd call it,'' Chief Bill Lansdowne said. ``It's not a peeler.''

To bolster their account, police showed the implement to the media -- a surprising step given that the investigation into Tran's death has not been completed and the grand jury has not received the case for review.

``This is unusual. Clearly, you don't do this,'' said Deputy Chief Rob Davis, who oversees the department's investigative bureau. ``But this meat cleaver has all of a sudden become a vegetable peeler.''

Davis said the department's decision to allow the media to see and photograph the implement in question was also aimed at dispelling doubts that police might be hiding or shading the facts.

``We want to be upfront and forthright with the information,'' Davis said.

The incident started with a 911 call from a neighbor who reported an unsupervised child near 570 E. Taylor St., where Dang Bui and Tran lived with their two children, ages 3 and 4. When officers Marshall and Tom Mun arrived, they heard children screaming in the house and knocked on the door.

At this point, the accounts of Tran's death conflict.

Davis said the officers were met by Bui, who told them Tran ``was losing it.'' Mun got Bui and the children into the hallway of the small duplex, away from Tran.

Tran, who was just a few steps from Marshall, had the dao bao in her hand and made a threatening move as if to throw it, police said. Marshall ordered her several times to drop the weapon before he fired, Lansdowne said. Officials say that Tran understood English.

Police say 55 seconds elapsed between entry and the shooting. Because of the close proximity, Marshall did not use pepper spray, which could not have stopped Tran quickly enough, said Lt. David Babineau, the department's training manager.

Lansdowne and Davis said neither Marshall nor Mun had time to try to calm Tran, who was apparently upset that she had been locked out of her bedroom, or to get her crisis counseling help.

``There was never time to negotiate,'' Lansdowne said.

Linh Bui, however, gave a different account of events, saying Marshall fired almost as soon as he walked into the house and saw Tran holding the peeler. Mun was still outside the front door, behind Marshall, he said. Marshall shouted, ``Hey, hey, hey!'' at Tran before he fired.

A neighbor across the street from the home backed the family's story. Richard Salazar said he watched two police officers emerge from their car on 12th Street and walk toward the home.

``Only one officer went in when the shot was fired,'' Salazar said. ``There were two officers, but only one officer went in. After the shot was fired, the second officer went in.''

Attorney Felicita Vu Ngo, who has been retained by Tran's family to investigate the incident, estimates the shooting occurred two seconds after police entered. ``There's a lot of questions,'' she said.

``Just from talking to Dang, who was present'' at the shooting, ``it appears that police might have acted hastily,'' she said.

But Davis said forensic evidence supports the two officers' accounts.

In the wake of the shooting, police and the local NAACP chapter said they received about 10 calls each from people decrying the killing.

``Everybody is outraged,'' said Nedra Jones, the legal redress chairwoman for the NAACP. ``They just can't believe it.''

Davis said he believes ``it's legit for people to have questions'' and ask if police could have done more to ensure a safe outcome. Conversely, he said, ``We're trying to communicate with the community: It was a very fast-moving situation.''

Tran's relatives and friends, along with Vietnamese-American community activists, plan to march at 9 a.m. today from her home at 13th and Taylor streets to City Hall to focus attention on her death and the police investigation, and to spur contributions for Tran's children, said Madison Nguyen, a Franklin-McKinley School District trustee who is helping to organize the march.

Mercury News Staff Writer Crystal Carreon contributed to this report. Contact Rodney Foo at rfoo@mercurynews.com or (408) 975-9346.


Large peeler common in Vietnamese homes
By K. Oanh Ha

San Jose, CA (Mercury News) - It may be big and look sharp, but to most Vietnamese-Americans, the implement the San Jose Police Department is calling a cleaver is unmistakably a vegetable peeler. In Vietnamese, the peelers are called dao bao. The lightweight devices look more like a knife than a typical vegetable peeler used in most American homes: They have either a wooden or plastic shaft and are usually a hand's-length long. Southeast Asians prefer the traditional peeler because it serves the dual purpose of peeling skin from fruits and vegetables and slicing them thinly. The one used by shooting victim Cau Thi Tran of San Jose appeared to be sharpened at the edge -- uncommon, though not unheard of. Tina Tien, a Vietnamese immigrant who lives in San Jose, says she knows of a few Vietnamese cooks who sharpen the edges of their dao bao for convenience. She says she has also seen peelers made in Thailand that come with the edges pre-sharpened. The markings on the one held by Tran indicate it was probably made in Thailand.

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