Eden Center Police Raid Sparks Fear and Outrage
Police Found Cash, Gambling Devices; Case vs. 1st Defendants’ Group Dismissed
By: Jackie Bong Wright
Vietnamese American Chamber of Commerce-DC leaders, including its vice president, Frank Huy Do (holding “Respect is Earned, not Endowed”), demonstrated in front of the Falls Church District Court in Virginia during a trial of the first batch of 19 defendants on September 14, demanding equal rights after the police raid at Eden Shopping Center. Arlington General District Court Judge Thomas J. Kelley Jr. found a defendant not guilty of illegal gambling, and charges against four others were dismissed, according to a news report. Trials for other defendants will be held this month and in November. (Photo by Dang Nguyen courtesy of Jackie Bong-Wright)
Falls Church, Virginia–Vietnamese American Chamber of Commerce of Greater Washington Vice President Frank Huy Do, standing in handcuffs onstage at V3 restaurant at the Vietnamese American Eden Shopping Center here, re-enacted on September 1 being handcuffed during a police raid at Eden Center on August 11.
He introduced himself as an Executive at New York Life insurance, a father and a churchgoer. “I was handcuffed and driven around for over an hour, from eleven until past midnight, then put in the Arlington County jail, not knowing what I’d done wrong. The police even refused to let me call my lawyer.”
“I was charged for appearing drunk in public, although witnesses inside the Café Metro, where I was, had videotaped the scene and claimed the contrary. The police said that they banned me from going to the Eden for two years. Fortunately, Due Tran, my lawyer, called around looking for me, and finally, was able to get me out of jail that night for lack of proof. Later, Alan Frank, a partner of Eden Center, lifted the ban for all the Eden ‘troublemakers.’”
On August 11, authorities arrested 19 for alleged gambling violations during a police raid at the Eden Shopping Center, sparking fear and outrage, and leading to calls by community and business leaders for a fair trial and proposals for better working relationships between merchants and the authorities.
On September 14, Arlington General District Court Judge Thomas J. Kelley Jr. found the first defendant not guilty of illegal gambling after a trial, and charges against the next four defendants were dismissed, according to a Washington Post report.
Due Tran, the defendants’ lawyer and counsel for the Vietnamese American Chamber of Commerce of Greater Washington hailed the decision. The Post also reported Tran said the Vietnamese American community would meet with city officials “to erase any crime at Eden Center and establish a strong working relationship with police.”
At the meeting with city council officials, merchants expressed support for police action against criminal activity, the Post added, noting that many also said they think officers were guilty of harassment or racism.
The Northern Virginia Regional Gang Task Force held a press conference on August 12, the day after the raid, where Chief Harry Reitz said that the Falls Church Police had confiscated over $1 million in cash, and 70 gambling devices, and that 19 “Dragon Family” gang members had been arrested. Several faced felony charges.
The Task Force Executive Director, Ray Colgan, speaking at the press conference, said that “all the intelligence we had” pointed to Asian gang activity, and that felony arrests would be forthcoming.
In related news, Virginia Delegate Mark Keam decried the improper procedures used by the police. Keam said he would introduce a bill at the Virginia National Assembly requiring the police to read suspects their Miranda rights in Vietnamese. The Vietnamese, he declared, are also American citizens whose rights should be respected. He urged people to register to vote and work together to show their strength, and press for their rights.
The Task Force press conference on the day after the raid was covered widely by the media, including CNN, Channel 9, Fox News, The Washington Post, local newspapers and online media. Reports alleged the stores at Eden Center were venues for gambling, assaults and extortion by gangs. Hoang Tho, a barber at Eden since 1984, said that everybody was sad and upset seeing television images of “Gang at Eden Center” with the flag of South Vietnam in the background.
As a result of the negative media reports, businesses that had been booming had suffered a visible decline, according to Gene Binh Nguyen, owner of V3 and VACOC-DC president. Fear and mistrust of the police ran high among the store owners.
He and Loc Huynh, the vice president, as well as ten board members, met with the Falls Church City Council and proposed that Falls Church City establish a “drug free zone” at the Eden Center and a community crime watch program. They also called for both city and police to create liaison officers with shop owners.
Falls Church Mayor Nader Baroukh, and Vice-Mayor David Snyder, welcomed proposals from business leaders and pledged to work to “ensure a safe and prosperous environment at the Eden Center.”
VACOC-DC Vice President Frank Huy Do and his board members went around all 120 of the stores at Eden Center and distributed flyers inviting the owners to a fundraising event on September 8. The funds will assist the 19 people who received citations for gambling violations.
The fund-raising event took in $17,000 within two hours after Virginia Delegate Keam decried the improper procedures used by the police.
The Vietnamese American community now awaits the trial of the next group of defendants on October 5. The Falls Church News-Presse.com reported on September 15 the police status report on the case. Excerpts follow: “On October 5, 10 defendants have trial dates. All are charged with illegal gambling in violation of Va. Code Section 18.2-326. On October 5, 1 defendant has a trial date for allowing gambling on his business premises in violation of Va. Code Section 18.2-329. On November 2, 3 defendants have trial dates for illegal gambling in violation of Va. Code Section 18.2-326.”
During the trial of the first batch of defendants, the Vietnamese-American Chamber of Commerce-DC (VACOC-DC) and the defendants’ friends demonstrated in front of City Hall, asking for a fair trial. They held banners that read, “Fight for the Right Fight,” “Change for a Better Tomorrow,” “Race is not a Color,” and “Equality for All.” Frank Huy Do held the sign “Respect is Earned, not Endowed.”
Due Tran, VACOC-DC consultant and attorney, strongly denounced the police action. He called for an end to harassment and intimidation. “If these crimes have existed for a long time, as the police claim, then there is either ‘failed policing or worse, racism.’”
Appeal for Justice
The other defendants, men and women ranging in ages from their 20s to their 60s, appeared onstage after Do’s re-enactment of his experience on August 11, and said that the police had got it wrong: “Do we look like gang members and criminals?” They said that none of them had a criminal record, and appealed to the community for justice.
Cuong Cao, an 18-wheel driver, told SBTN-TV that he had been arrested while drinking coffee and eating fruit in a Café. His daughter, who had come to take him home, was also arrested. Another customer, Ta Van Loc, also said that he was drinking coffee when the police raided and forced him to sign a citation. He said they even took $280 of his grocery money, without giving him a receipt.
A restaurant owner of 20 years, Mindy Trang, said that she had never heard of any gangs. Hung Bui, owner of Café Metro, said that one particular officer had the habit of walking in, shining a flashlight in his customers’ eyes, and repeatedly ticketing him for “drinking on duty.” He said his eyes appeared glassy because of an eye disorder, not because he was drunk as the police had alleged.