How Little Cau Bich Tran’s Death Taught Us

When news broke of a 27-year-old Vietnamese man being shot and killed at his home by a San Jose police officer, the pain of the tragedy in the local community was amplified by a gut-wrenching and unexpected feeling—familiarity.

While questions are still being asked after the May 10 shooting of Daniel Pham, the basic fact pattern that has been disclosed by the San Jose Police Department is sadly reminiscent of a 2003 incident involving a young Vietnamese mother, Cau Bich Tran, who was shot by San Jose police in her home.

In Pham’s case, officers arrived at his home in response to a domestic disturbance call, after Pham had reportedly cut his brother with a knife. Within three minutes after police arrived and had found Pham in the backyard with a knife, he was dead. According to reports in the Mercury News, Pham’s siblings at the time of the incident were yelling at officers not to kill him, and that he was mentally ill.

The impulse by Pham’s family to yell a warning not to kill their brother was informed by the Cau Bich Tran, case which was a defining moment in police and community relations in San Jose, and six years later still looms over the city, not only due to the loss of life, but because of the outrage it sparked in the Vietnamese community. Cua Bich Tran, 25-years-old, was also shot and killed in her home when officers arrived at her house responding to a domestic disturbance call and mistakenly taking her vegetable peeler for a cleaver.

While the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s office has called for a Grand Jury, and an internal police investigation begins to examine the shooting of Daniel Pham, the recent death is an indicator of how regressive the City of San Jose has become regarding critical incidents involving police officers since the time of Cau Bich Tran’s passing. What has been revealed through Daniel Pham’s death is how little the City has learned, and how authentic community concern can lead to misdirected political policies.

In response to the Cau Bich Tran shooting, two policy changes were created. These were the assignment of the Independent Police Auditor to audit officer involved shooting deaths, and the introduction of a new weapon —Tasers.

Yet six years later, as the City responds to the Pham death and draws upon its solutions implemented from the Tran case, both policies have proven to insufficient. The policy to have the Independent Police Auditor review officer involved shootings no longer exists, and the Taser, while allegedly used on Daniel Pham, was not used as a replacement of a gun, but rather as a precursor to one.

The IPA power to audit shooting deaths was rescinded by a controversial opinion offered by the City Attorney, Richard Doyle in 2007. In an ironic twist, the Independent Police Auditor at the time, Barbara Attard, had approached City Council in order to expand the purview of the auditing process to included other officer involved critical incidents such as Taser involved deaths.

San Jose was the first large city in the country to arm each of their officers with the weapon in 2004, which came directly as a response to the Tran case. Since implementation though, there have been seven Taser-involved deaths of civilians. But rather than expand the audit beyond shootings to all critical incidents, the City Council, informed by the interpretation of the City Charter by the City Attorney, claimed that the Independent Police Auditor actually could not audit any officer involved incident—including officer involved shootings like Tran of the past, and Pham in the present.

The re-interpretation of history, and the diminished role of the office means that Daniel Pham’s death will have less scrutiny and review than Cau Bich Tran’s did. 

When Cau Bich Tran died, the city of San Jose did what if felt was the right thing, to prevent the possibilities of another tragic death. Who knows if those efforts, if fully realized, and better informed, could have prevented the death of Daniel Pham. But as the Pham family goes through the same grieving process that the Tran family did six years ago, a City too is mourning, wondering how we arrived here once again, and whether this time, we will learn from the loss.


  1. Raj,

    I invite you to make certain our police department is “informed” of how better to handle these situations, so please “inform” me of what you would do when:

    confronted with an armed person

    who is in an uncontrollable state

    who has already assaulted one person

    who is unresponsive to verbal appeals—even from his loved ones

    who represents a direct threat to anyone in his presence (including you)

    who, if not contained, represents a threat to his family and his neighbors

    who, through his actions, convinces you that your life is in imminent danger

    and who cannot be disabled by non-lethal means?

    C’mon, hero, clue me in on how you and your fellow De-Buggers might handle a tough situation from which you can’t walk away.

  2. Wow.. actually I should say “Oh no”.. this story is right up Raj’s alley.
    I wonder what would need to happen to prompt Raj to write a decent and supportive article concerning the SJPD. Speaking of De-Bug,.. I carry Raid.

  3. Raj,
    You make it sound so innocent and benign that “Pham had reportedly cut his brother with a knife” making it sound like some little minor laceration. In actuality Pham had slit his brother’s throat open from ear to ear and through some miracle he didn’t die. Please go away Raj and take Sean Webby and Woolfolk from the Mercury with you.

  4. Just the facts maam,
    “DA George Kennedy opened up a grand jury hearing into the death of Bich Cau Thi Tran, who was holding an Asian vegetable peeler that resembled a cleaver when she was shot by police.”

    The Police Officer in this case was cleared of ANY wrong doing yet Raj has decided that a jury’s findings don’t count when he is retelling the story.

    “The girlfriend of Pham’s brother, Brian, summoned the police after Daniel attacked his brother.”

    “How much was their choice influenced by the presence of the girlfriend barricaded inside a bathroom?”

    So were is the presumption of the innocence of these Police Officers on Raj’s part? In his column, he does not allow for a complete investigation into this case to conclude, before finding these Officers guilty of yet another supposed act of violence and murder against a minority. This man mentally ill or not, was in the act of committing an attempted murder on his brother by slitting his throat, and terrifying his entire family. 

    We live in a country that says, we are innocent until proven guilty. People like DeShawn Campbell got almost 8 years of “innocent until proven guilty,” while the family of 24 year old, deceased Police Officer Jeffery Fontana’s family, suffered in silence. Their prayers for justice in the murder of their son were finally answered yesterday.

    I find it sad and very heart breaking that the Metro, slash SJI found it acceptable to put this trash of Raj’s and the Herhold piece on the 911 tapes on this blog, but have completely ignored the Fontana family, and the murder of their innocent 24 year old son.  I must ask you Editor, what in the hell were you thinking by doing such a thing?  Do you get the concept of balance and fairness?

  5. No surprise that Raj is here to “inform” us with an overabundance of speculation and absence of facts. I think we knew he would find this tragedy too rich of a cop-bashing opportunity to pass on, damn the facts.

    But if Raj should choose to respond to any posts I hope he will tell us:

    1. How he is in a position to claim that “The impulse by Pham’s family to yell a warning not to kill their brother was informed by the Cau Bich Tran, case…” (Informed?) Has he actually spoken to the Pham family? Can Raj even tell us if the Pham family was aware of the events of 6 years ago? Or, and tell the truth Raj, are you trying to draw a connection that does not exist?

    2. What would Raj have the police do when a violent person, who just cut one person’s throat, is charging them with a knife? And are weapons less lethal when in the hands of the mentally ill?

    3. Just out of curiosity, has Raj ever done a police ride-along to see for himself how our police protect the public, and the high degree of professionalism they bring to their job?

  6. This piece by Raj is an example of why he was not invited to join the panel looking into the drunk in public arrests. Raj has absolutely no objectivity. He has a few pieces of information regarding this current on-going case and yet he naturally assumes the officers were wrong. Too bad Raj can’t feel the same pain the officers are going through for being attacked by a violent criminal armed with a deadly weapon and being forced to take his life.

  7. OK, I have a question…
    Who made the choice to even allow Raj and people like him to be involved in a forum like this? To have this platform to spew this distorted point of view and then claim it to be a mainstream view of legit dissent.
    That’s the real question.

  8. I posted a comment re Raj the cop basher before noon today.  Other later posts made it.  Mine was apparently excised.  Perhaps Raj or Eric cut it up with a vegetable peeler.

    I’m sure the response, if any, was that they didn’t get it, or it must be a glitch in MY system.

  9. This is the kind of case where the use of a taser might be preferable, but I wouldn’t start off by second-guessing police officers whose lives are threatened.

    I have observed at first hand San Jose police dealing with an out of control mentally ill person and I thought they did a very professional job.

  10. Keep in mind folks Raj may in his mind have good intentions in his efforts, but at the end of the day he is very young and idealistic. I am sure we all remember the days when we thought things were either black or white, good or bad…..

  11. This article sadly points out that the book-ends we as people of color have to measure the police department’s and the City government’s “progress” around officer-involved shootings and department transparency are the deaths of 2 Vietnamese, mentally ill people at the hands of the police.  How are people supposed to call the cops who are there to protect and serve when there is the very real possibility that someone you love ends up dead?  When did the threshold of “fear for their lives” become the first reaction point in a situation AND the first point of defense for cops?  I’m not saying it’s not scary to be a cop, but it’s scarier to be a person of color confronted by the cops. 

    What’s more sad is the hate and bigotry that it brings out in some of these SJI readers.  Any critique by Raj or any writer on SJI on police accountability is immediately “cop-bashing”.  Hey, I’d rather be “bashed” by a keyboard than killed in front of my family by the cops anyday. 

    If the other commenters would like to publish articles defending the deaths of people in the hands of the SJPD, go ahead.

  12. One would think the ethnicity of the people involved wouldn’t be of any concern.

    I would be very skeptical of anyone who assesses skin color when evaluating how this unfortunate situation was handled.

  13. #13.

    “it’s scarier to be a person of color confronted by the cops.” no… it’s scarier to be a person of color confronted by another person of color.

    “What’s more sad is the hate and bigotry that it brings out in some of these SJI readers.  Any critique by Raj or any writer on SJI on police accountability is immediately “cop-bashing”.  Hey, I’d rather be “bashed” by a keyboard than killed in front of my family by the cops anyday.” Whatever.. the only bigotry is on Raj’s side.

    I have a suggestion, if so many people think that the SJPD is such a horrible bunch of public servants, then I think the SJPD should go on strike during, um let’s say Cinco de Mayo. And let all the police bashers protect and serve their own communities and see how for that get’s you.

  14. I’m sure there’s a big history here with Raj and his detractors, but for the most part I don’t see their point.  He did not fault the cops, but the lack of an effective review process for officer-involved deaths.  I’m as “support-your-local-police” as the next guy, but do we really wish to say that there is no room for improvement when citizens are killed by their paid protectors?  Or that there is no need to have that community directly involved in the process?

  15. Carl #12 doesn’t have an argument, a point, or anything else; just a charge of racism against anyone who believes our police dept. is doing a good job.  Go back to your cave, Carl, until you have a cogent point to make.

    #13—get off the excuse of “people of color” being wrongfully restrained/killed.  Mr. Pham was not killed because he was “of color”.  He was killed because he slit a relative’s throat with some sort of blade, a person at the scene called for assistance, Mr. Pham was confronted by the police who tried to control him, he was not able to be controlled by being tased, and he was advancing on the police (who protect us all (even Carl and Fernando) with that same blade.

    #16 wrote:“Or that there is no need to have that community directly involved in the process?”  What community, ScottyMac, the community of the families of felons and other miscreants who insist their relative who has raped, killed, or whatever, is just a great family guy who loves his family and homies?  I DON’T want the community of the families of felons involved in any way with how our police dept. operates.  Nor do I want the touchy/feely, squishy, devoid of much experience students or limousine liberals involved in police pratice either.

  16. #12-Carl,
    I think that was really uncalled for, and since it is a slur, the Editor should never have posted your comment.

    #16-ScottyMac in Downtown,
    Unless and until the investigation into this is concluded, and the Officers are found guilty of wrong doing, Raj’s article stands as the usual unfair, not factual, crap disturbing, anti-Police tripe it always is.
    No one on SJI wants an Officer, who has wrongly killed anyone to go free, but I guess Raj and his cronies just don’t get that, so they make things up, or leave vital facts out to sway readers to believe things that just aren’t true. That is why very few of us find his articles credible.

    And yes, fair, neutral oversight of Police shootings by skilled, experienced investigators is vital. I agree 100%.

  17. Raj claims the Taser “…was not used as a replacement of a gun, but rather as a precursor to one.”

    Raj, please tell us how SJPD is supposed to react when a Taser does not stop a mentally deranged man with a deadly weapon.

  18. Next time any of you police bashers come accross a crazed lunatic or a man yielding a knife or a gun don’t call the police; just handle the situation yourself and see how far you are willing to go to protect yourself.

    Oh, by the way, I’m a woman of hispanic decent and I’ve never had any problem with the police.

  19. AGAIN….When is calling for police ACCOUNTABILITY suddenly police bashing? 

    Raj is not a cop-basher.  Cop bashers are the ones who just go say F the Cops for no reason.  Don’t put Raj and the people who call for transparency and accountability in the same category.

  20. Lots of questions for Raj especially #1 but Raj is a nowhere to be found.  Why?  SJI feels too much like the floundering Mercury News and no longer a community discussion forum.

  21. Raj-

    I think you worldview shapes your news judgement.  Who, what, when, where, why and how.  That’s the news and good print journalism makes sure to dig into why (because they have the time to do a little investigating versus TV that want to splash images on the screen and run sound bites quickly.)

    The local Daily newspaper has taken up activist journalism like the courts seem to have taken up legislating from the bench.  Because we want something to be so, doesn’t make it so, and coloring the news to manufacture dissent is just as bad a manipulating the news during an election to manufacture consent (for a tax or ballot measure or candidate).

    I guess its not that big of a deal if you look at this site as a BBS-style chat room and not a news site.  But with the local news establishment compromised beyond recovery, I had hoped for some kind of miraculous peer-to-peer internet magic bullet solution to the problem of our community needing real, credible and insightful news outlets.

    I guess Raj’s piece would fit on an opinion page, but would be accompanied by a short blurp telling you who Raj is so you’d be easily able to recognize the potential biases of the perspective.  I don’t know Raj, but suspect he works for some enlighted social services organization or government department.

    Awareness is a good thing.  At the same time we train police officers to be aware of cultural differences, we also need to train immigrants to some of our cultural norms.  One of which is if you go nuts with a weapon and the police are involved, your either going to get shot or go to jail, or both.

    That’s I think consistent across the United States.  Some communities have different issues and problems, and they have some other problems and values.  In Chicago or New York or Oakland or Los Angeles, where there’s been a history of lawless behavior and abuse, perhaps some communities would rather go to a local gang leader to resolve a problem than call the police.  But maybe that’s not the way to go in an open, democratic society.  I’d rather have public institutions enforcing our laws and not a quasi-criminal syndicate running the burroughs and hoods.  I believe that the correct procedures were probably followed, and that if anything different were done, it could be that the family initiated a police call before the violence asking for a psychiatric hold on their relative as he appeared to be a danger to himself and others.

    Then the county social service system and Valley Med could have engaged the individual and family in addressing the mental health issues.  Keeping the problem a secret at home until it can’t be managed anymore probably contributed to the outcome, so maybe a little light can be shinned on the help available to families coping with mental illness in the home.

  22. Fernando,
    I know you are friends with Raj. I’ve seen you at the Council Meetings with him making the same wild statements he does. I’m amazed at the way your cronies threaten the Council if you don’t do things your way. I am also shocked that you guys get a way with the way you act, and with the threats you make. The only conclusion I can come to about why you guys are getting a way with this stuff is that ignoring you, and allowing you guys to rant and rave is easier than trying to reason with you. 

    Having said that, for Raj to write this column and interject wrong doing on behalf of the Police, who by the way have NOT been found guilty of any wrong doing, and tie it into another case where the Officer was cleared of all charges is not Police transparency, or accountability, it is unjust, and shows a great deal of irresponsibility on Raj’s part.

    I honestly don’t think you guys get the damage you are doing by making accusations of wrongdoing every time there is a shooting or tasing in San Jose. Do you guys ever stop to think about the “true” victims in these cases? 

    It is just ridiculous that Raj is paid to keep writing Cop bashing stories like this, but hey this is America so have at it. Just remember though, TRUE victims of crime matter more to officials than you guys do. God forbid one day you or Raj loses someone to the very scum you both so quickly defend, I think you’ll see things very differently.

  23. Fernando,

    You lose credibility by turning this shooting into a racial issue. If you have a valid point it is lost in the cry of racism. The police responded to a call of a man who had slit his brother’s throat in an attempt to kill him. The man then attacked the officers with the same knife. The officers did not want to die so they used lethal force in self defense.

    The suspect could have been white, brown, green, or purple and the outcome would have been the same.

  24. When did this notion arise that the police dept. must be ACCOUNTABLE to the agendas of every Tom, Dick, Fernando, & Raj in SJ or elsewhere?

    Kathleen #23 wrote:“The only conclusion I can come to about why you guys are getting a way with this stuff is that ignoring you, and allowing you guys to rant and rave is easier than trying to reason with you.”  That’s not it, Kethleen.  Everyone is afraid of being called a racist if they don’t bow and kowtow to Fernando’s & Raj’s notions/opinions.

  25. I don’t even read Raj’s articles.  He has zero creditability and his articles aren’t worth the paper it is printed on or in my case the computer screen it is displayed on.  However, I do enjoy reading the comments about his article.  It comforts me that I’m not alone.
    So I read Fernando’s post and I decided to read the article. (for entertainment purposes only, hahaha)  In my opinion I think it falls short of bashing but falls in line with Raj’s distain for San Jose Police and probably police all over the world.  Raj suggests that we (the city) have learned nothing from the death of Tran and Pham.  The fact is that there was very little to learn to begin with.  If a person comes after a police officer with a knife or what appears to be a knife, then death by gunshot is probable.  I don’t see how that can be changed.  I also fail to see how this has anything to do with accountability.

    What we did learn from Tran was that a less lethal option should be available to officers in the field.  The city obtained that tool for our officers in the form of a Taser.  And let’s make it perfectly clear.  The Taser is not a replacement for a gun and may or may not be a precursor in the next officer involved incident.  All over the world Tasers are saving lives.  It is the drugs that are killing people.

    Finally, seeing that Raj was Attard’s right hand man I would think that he is well versed in the duties of the IPA.  So IS it correct when Raj writes: “The policy to have the IPA review officer involved shootings no longer exists”?  Perhaps I am wrong but I thought that the IPA does investigate officer involved shootings just not Taser related deaths.  Raj are there any clarifications that need to be made?

    The bottom line, when a police officer’s life is in jeopardy, he or she will use any means to defend there own life and the lives of others. (including Raj).

  26. None of you have answered my question and because of that, i’m convinced you’re not up for dialogue but just using this as a platform to bullhorn your own opinions.  That’s fine. 

    AGAIN….When is calling for police ACCOUNTABILITY suddenly police bashing?

  27. #26-Fernando,
    The only person dogging answering questions is you Fernando. When you start practicing what you preach, come back and talk to us. I answered your question; you ignored it so the ball is now in your court. And by the way, last I saw you, you were the one screaming out the end of a bullhorn, and threatening the Council. 

    “Everyone is afraid of being called a racist if they don’t bow and kowtow to Fernando’s & Raj’s notions/opinions.”

    I think that may be a part of it, but I also know that few take these guys seriously at all. Government is great at stone walling folks like these. During election time, they pretend to care, but their actions show a very different result.  When Raj and his cohorts walked out of the Task Force after throwing a temper tantrum, and then decoded to threaten the Mayor and Council, they lost ALL credibility, even though they didn’t have much to begin with.

    We all know who Jack is, who PO is, and Pete Campbell is, but the big question here to be answered is who is Raj, where did he come from, and who is paying Raj to do this Police bashing? It isn’t cheap to live here and Raj seems to have nothing but time to spend dreaming up a million ways to torture the Police with his false accusations.

  28. #28—pardon my ignorance—Raj was Ms. Attard’s right hand man.  That’s an important
    non-disclosure by Raj, if true.

    Kathleen # 29 wrote:“Government is great at stone walling folks like these”.  Kathleen, I hate to break it to you, but government is great at stonewalling EVERYONE.

  29. Have any of you people actually been to De-Bug or spoken to Raj? 

    I’m sure you’ll say something silly about not lowering yourself to that level, or whatever cockamamie reasoning you conjure up.  But maybe you ought to consider it.  I know for a fact that De-Bug is not an anti-police organization.  They’re a group of young people in San Jose who are fighting day in and day out for justice and equality.  This has always been a threatening concept.  You show me someone in an authoritative position, and I will show you someone who doesn’t have a lot of time for criticism.  It’s an age-old rule.

    What we are losing site of is the fact that maybe we do have a breakdown in trust amongst us all.  Kids don’t trust adults, the police don’t trust the citizens (or city hall, for that matter) and big business is laughing all way to the bank.  I commend the police for the work that they do, and I also commend De-Bug for the work that they do.  What we all need to figure out is how we can better work together.

    Say what you like.  I’m not coming back to see what anyone has to say.  I’ve got real life work to do.

  30. #31/Concerned:

    If you consider De-Bug neautral or fair-minded towards police you have NOT been reading Raj’s articles here. Raj is the public face of De-Bug, for better or worse, and hereit is obviously the latter. Every incident involving the SJPD is followed by a HIT PIECE from Raj that blasts the police. For fair-minded citizens it is tiresome, and damaging. As well it is great to see SJPD responding to his attacks.

    Raj masks his HATE for authority, specifically the SJPD, with the veil of accountability. If he were truly interested in accountablility he would work within the process and not stomp off like a petulant child when he does not get his way. The sooner Raj and his t-shirt heads north to SFO or Berkeley the better for SJ. His political aspirations are DOA and if he chooses to stay he will become irrelevant and continue to galvanize the police and the fair-minded.

  31. #35-Carl said, “Man, if you guys (Kathleen, JMOC, etc) are supposed to be the “adults” with the wisdom that Raj and Fernando supposedly lack, then I don’t want to grow up.”

    Thanks for proving our point. Only a child calls people names, and refuses to grow up, rather than having an intellectual exchange based on facts.  And only children view the world through the “all about me and only me,” set of black and white glasses you, Fernando, and Raj wear. wink

  32. #31 “Concerned”

    We have tried to speak to Raj through these forums many times (see #19) but Raj is a no show. Raj must be one of those in “an authoritative position” who has no time for criticism.

  33. Raj titled this ridiculous piece “How Little Cau Bich Tran’s Death Taught Us”.

    I think a more accurate title would have been “How Little Cau Bich Tran’s Death Taught Daniel Pham”.

    Daniel should have learned from Cau Bich that when you attack the police with a deadly weapon you are likely to be shot dead by the officers in their own self defense.

  34. #31 “Concerned”

    First you state, “You show me someone in an authoritative position, and I will show you someone who doesn’t have a lot of time for criticism.”  Then, you go on to state, “Say what you like.  I’m not coming back to see what anyone has to say.”  Sounds like you must be one of those people in an authoritative positon you are ripping on since you obviously can’t take criticism.

  35. Man, if you guys (Kathleen, JMOC, etc) are supposed to be the “adults” with the wisdom that Raj and Fernando supposedly lack, then I don’t want to grow up.

  36. Raj is right.
    This kind of rogue police activities occur daily all across America. Only cops can MURDER people and legally get away with it.
    We need a lot more courageous commentators and journalists like Raj to report to us—the public—the oppurtunistic brutality perpetrated daily by cops all over the States.
    Thank you Raj for standing up bravely for the voiceless and the poor aganist bullying and murdering cops. BTW, I loved the article you wrote on Professor Gates. You were right on the mark.

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