5 Cited at Center on Aug. 11 Exonerated In Court Today
It was not your everyday sight in the parking lot under sunny skies at the Falls Church City Hall Wednesday morning. With General District court proceedings scheduled inside to deal with misdemeanor charges against some of those cited during the Northern Virginia Gang Task Force’s raid at the Eden Center last month, a dozen Vietnamese-Americans stood outside with banners calling for respect, equality and “a change for the better.”
Of the five of those cited who appeared in court yesterday, all were exonerated. After the first was found not guilty, charges against the other four were dropped.
The demonstrators yesterday followed on the petitions of 10 leaders of Vietnamese-American organizations and owners of Eden Center businesses at the Falls Church City Council meeting Monday, concerned that the Gang Task Force raid has hurt business at the shopping center, which is one of the largest aggregations of predominantly Vietnamese-American businesses in the U.S., and led to an increase of fear and a deterioration of relations with the City and its police.
Also seen outside City Hall Wednesday morning was Falls Church Vice Mayor David Snyder, speaking with the demonstrators.
“I welcomed them and expressed appreciation for their exercise of peaceful assembly rights,” Snyder told the News-Press. “I indicated the Council heard their comments Monday night, and acted to make sure that we will be working on measures to improve cooperation with the Eden Center to assure that it is safe, attractive and inviting.”
Ten leaders of the regional Vietnamese-American Chamber of Commerce and business leaders at the Eden Center appeared at Monday’s City Council meeting to decry the negative impact of the Gang Task Force’s raid and arrests at the Eden 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 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 sources have confirmed to the News-Press that business activity is down at the Eden Center following the raid).
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 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.”
Council member Robin Gardner said she found some of the allegations made “deeply disturbing.”
In a statement by Falls Church Police Chief Harry Reitze provided to the News-Press Wednesday, he said the following:
“The City of Falls Church Police Department is committed to providing a safe environment for all who live, work or visit. The FCPD has practiced community policing at the Eden Center since its founding, with placement of an on-site field office and foot patrols which strengthen information sharing. The FCPD has a long-standing, sound relationship with the Eden Center, and has been asked on occasion to increase its patrols and to enforce violations of smoking, gambling and other activities. The FCPD has been asked many times by businesses and the Eden Center management to ban people from the center who may violate the law.”
Chief Reitze added, “The Aug. 11 gambling raid was organized and executed by the Northern Virginia Regional Gang Task Force, of which the FCPD is a member.”
He said, “The FCPD, as does the entire City, welcomes the multi-cultural environment that the Eden Center provides, which includes a large variety of outstanding Vietnamese restaurants and community enrichment events, such as the New Year’s celebration and the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival, which is this Saturday, Sept. 17. We will continue to work with the Eden Center management and business owners to maintain a safe and welcoming environment.”