Ten leaders of the regional Vietnamese-American Chamber of Commerce and business leaders at Falls Church’s Eden Center appeared at tonight’s meeting of the Falls Church City Council to decry the negative impact of the Northern Virginia Gang Task Force’s raid and arrests at the predominantly Vietnamese-American Eden Shopping Center that took place Aug. 11. The leaders proposed a set of policies to redress what was described as a deteriorated business climate at the center and loss of trust and respect between the Falls Church police and business owners and their customers.
Graphic descriptions of alleged practices by the police, including failure to exhibit search warrants and provide Miranda Rights were given by the different spokespersons as the Council sat wrapped in silence for an hour.
Due H. Tran, the president of the regional Vietnamese-American Chamber, told the News-Press following their testimony to the Council that his group may make a public showing at the trial of the first group of Eden Center arrestees, all charged with misdemeanors, slated for this Wednesday when City Hall’s Council chambers are converted into a courtroom.
Tran had told the City Council that the Gang Task Force action in August “adversely effected business at the Eden Center,” and has contributed to a “poor reputation” for Falls Church. He said there was a “false pretense of criminal activity” created by the raid, and challenged the Council with the notion that if there was as much criminal activity at the Eden Center as the raid indicated, then it was either due to “failed policing,” or “a worse problem, racism.”
Other Vietnamese-American spokesmen referred to “mistrust,” “abuse of power,” fear of customers to come to the Eden Center, police harassment, warrantless searches, fear of police, “false use of force,” no knowledge by long-time business owners at the Center of the so-called “Dragon Family” allegedly involved in a gambling ring there, and bans of individuals by police “not in the interest of businesses there.”
One spokesman, Frank Do, said he is a respected, well-heeled New York Life partner operating at the Eden Center for many years, a father, a church goer and vice president of the Vietnamese-American Chamber of Commerce, and “not a criminal.” He said when he canvassed businesses at the Eden Center following the raid to inform business owners of their rights and asking them about details of the raid, police officers showed up to question his actions. They initially said he was within his rights to videotape them with his smart phone, but then returned five minutes later to arrest him and charge him with being drunk in public. He said that when friends asked the magistrate at the jail, they were told that he’d also engaged in an altercation and threatened the police.
Another business owner, speaking in Vietnamese through a translator, said that when he tried to show a police officer respect by extending his hand, the officer “pushed it away very hard.”
The Vietnamese-American spokesmen proposed the following solutions going forward: the creation of a Drug Free Zone, a business-led Community Watch at the Eden Center, a full time police liaison with the Eden Center business community, a City Council liaison as well, a police walk with civilian volunteers through the Center, and the availability of Vietnamese language Miranda Rights in written form, and when a more significant arrest is contemplated, a translator to read Miranda Rights.
Speaking on behalf the Council, Vice Mayor David Snyder praised the group for coming forward with constructive proposals. While he said “none of us (on the Council) have heard of some of the kinds of issues raised tonight,” and could not comment given the on-going investigations underway, he pledged his commitment to work with the group “to ensure a safe and prosperous environment” at the Eden Center. His comments were met with a loud applause by the group members.
Mayor Nader Baroukh echoed Snyder’s comments on behalf of the entire board, and City Manager Wyatt Shields said the City’s goal “is to provide the greatest public safety possible to the entire community.”