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N.Y.P.D. Settles APA Complaints: Brutality Charges Pile Up In New York

March 1, 1996. AsianWeek, pg. 13

Attorneys for the New York Police Department last month agreed to a $35,000 settlement for Nancy Tong, a well-known Asian American film producer who claimed that the N.Y.P.D. had subjected her to an unlawful strip search.

The alleged strip search occurred Aug. 25, 1994 at the 5th Precinct police station in New York City's Chinatown after Tong was arrested for two non-moving traffic violations.

Tong had exited her car on Mott Street in the middle of a traffic jam to ascertain the cause of the jam. When Lieutenant Walter Peyton ordered her back in her car, she questioned him, then got back in the car. Peyton then arrested her, charged her with two violations, and brought her to the precinct, where, Tong alleged, Peyton ordered a strip search and Officer Laurie Wilberg carried out the order.

"The law is very clear--you cannot subject someone to a strip search for a non-moving violation. And she posed no danger to the officer," said Elizabeth Ou Yang, the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF) staff attorney who represented Tong in the case.

Police officials refused to comment on the case, but reportedly denied the strip search had occurred.

OuYang speculated on the reason for the strip search. "Subjecting her to a strip search was to humiliate her and show her who has control. They think they can take advantage of Asian Americans because they don't know their rights, because they don't speak English."

The two charges--failure to comply with an order and driving with a suspended driver's license--were later dropped by the police. "It has been our position all along that [the charges] were used to subject Tong to a strip search." OuYang said.

"This settlement is a victory for the average Asian person in Chinatown," said Tong, who received the settlement Feb. 9, in a press release. "I am pleased that the indignities that I suffered may have some positive effect for the Asian community. Police officers should treat us with the respect that each of us deserves as a basic human being."

OuYang said the incident caused Tong emotional trauma. "She was devastated. It was violating and humiliating."

The settlement makes no admittance of guilt by the N.Y.P.D.. But, OuYang said, "they had the option of fighting it and they didn't. They chose to settle it."

Tong produced In the Name of the Emperor, and coproduced Who Killed Vincent Chin, which was nominated for an Academy Award.

A complaint regarding the incident is pending before the Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB), the administrative body that oversees police discipline.

In another case, a N.Y.P.D. police officer was sentenced to 700 hours of community service when he was convicted in November 1995 of attempted assault of a Korean store owner in Prospect Park, Brooklyn.

Officer Rolando Baquadano beat and arrested Son Tae Kim and his older brother in 1994 after Kim questioned the officer's accusation that Kim had given counterfeit bills to customers.

During the incident, Baquadano called the Kims "fucking Orientals" and "animals." After being arrested, the Kim brothers were treated at a hospital and held in jail for three days. Baquadano also charged the brothers with resisting arrest and disorderly conduct.

AALDEF staff attorney OuYang said special circumstances made possible this rare conviction of a police officer for brutality. "There were lay witnesses [customers] apart from the victims. And the officer has had two prior substantiated complaints," she said.

Substantiated complaints are complaints brought to the CCRB against a police officer that are deemed to have "substantial" evidence. Baquadano also had two unsubstantiated complaints on his record.

Police officials declined to comment on the case.

"It is a significant accomplishment for the Korean community and the Asian American community at large because it's very difficult to get an indictment against a police officer," OuYang said.

Ou Yang also praised the victims for following through on the case. "It takes brave victims to set the standard for us. It's very difficult for store owners, who rely on police protection, to take this type of action."

According to OuYang, the danger of violence is not limited to any particular Asian American group. "The Kim incident was in Prospect Park--what's considered a very good area. It just goes to show that police brutality can happen to Asian Americans anywhere, regardless of stature."


Copyright 1996 AsianWeek/Pan Asia Venture Capital Corp.

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