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August 12, 2003

Official taken off cop probe
DA's Decision in Shooting Case Made Known During Meeting With Asian-American Leaders

By Elise Banducci

(Mercury News) - Santa Clara County's district attorney has quietly removed one of his top prosecutors from the investigation into last month's fatal police shooting of 25-year-old Bich Cau Thi Tran.

News that Assistant District Attorney Karyn Sinunu would not be in charge of the investigation came during a Monday meeting between District Attorney George Kennedy and Asian-American leaders still outraged by the July 13 death of the mother of two.

Tran was shot in the kitchen of her East Taylor Street home by an officer responding to a 911 call of an abandoned child. Tran was wielding what police say appeared to be a cleaver but turned out to be an Asian vegetable peeler with a 6-inch blade.

After Monday's meeting at San Jose City Hall, Kennedy said Sinunu -- who normally supervises police misconduct investigations -- was taken off the case ``shortly'' after it was opened.

Instead, Deputy District Attorney Dan Nishigaya is in charge and reporting directly to Kennedy.

Sinunu's comments to media outlets immediately after the shooting may have backfired.

In a July 17 Mercury News article, she was quoted as saying that the police action was ``misunderstood.'' In addition, she urged police to display to reporters the instrument Tran was holding.

``She appeared to be advocating for the police when we're neutral right now,'' Kennedy said after the meeting, which was organized by City Councilman Chuck Reed. ``Her statements evidenced some premature judgment of the facts.''

Kennedy's step indicates how extraordinarily sensitive the controversial shooting, which is being reviewed by the FBI, has become.

In an unusual move, the DA has called for open grand jury hearings into the shooting. San Jose police have reached out to the Vietnamese-American community through neighborhood meetings and a radio campaign expressing sympathy and regret.

Richard Konda, executive director of the San Jose-based Asian Law Alliance, described Monday's meeting to explain grand jury and district attorney procedures as ``useful.'' He said he saw it as a positive sign that Sinunu would not be in charge of the case.

``One of the concerns all along is we want this to be a fair and objective investigation,'' Konda said. ``Based on certain statements that were made to the media by Ms. Sinunu, it seemed like she had already drawn some conclusions about the case.''

ONLINE: To read earlier stories on the shooting and its aftermath, go to: www.mercurynews.com
Contact Elise Banducci at ebanducci@mercurynews.com or (408) 295-3983.
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