An open grand jury on Thursday cleared a San Jose police officer of criminal wrongdoing in the fatal shooting of a mentally ill Vietnamese woman who appeared to threaten bystanders with a knife or cleaver, which turned out to be an Asian vegetable peeler.
The 18-member Santa Clara County criminal grand jury deliberated for less than three hours before deciding not to indict Chad Marshall on charges of murder or manslaughter in the July 13 shooting of Cau Bich Tran, 25 and the mother of two.
The jury foreman issued a terse declaration of no indictment Thursday afternoon after the seven-day proceeding in San Jose, but he did not say how many voted for or against the verdict; nor did he provide details about jurors’ reasoning.
Santa Clara County officials opened the grand jury to the public -- only the second time in the county’s history -- to try to smooth relations between San Jose’s police force and the region’s 83,000-member Vietnamese community, the nation’s second-largest after Little Saigon in Orange County.
Immigrants staged rallies at San Jose’s city hall throughout the summer, complaining that officers should be more culturally sensitive and the police force should hire more Vietnamese-speaking officers. Only about three dozen of 1,400 officers speak Vietnamese, and neither officer involved in the shooting spoke the language.
The two officers responded to a routine domestic disturbance call July 13. Within seconds of entering the tiny apartment Tran shared with her boyfriend and their two sons, the woman brandished what appeared to be a knife or cleaver and seemed to aim it at Marshall, according to grand jury testimony.
The instrument turned out to be a dao bao, a vegetable peeler used throughout Asia that has no sharp outward edges.
The jurors’ decision to clear Marshall did little to foster trust between the San Jose Police Department and Vietnamese residents.
“The message to the community is that we should be afraid to call the police -- whether we’re in danger or being beaten up,” said Felicita Vu Ngo, a San Jose resident and spokeswoman for the Tran family. “There is simply no trust in the police force.... You ask the police to come help you, then they shoot you.”
Andrew Schwartz, who represents Tran’s family, said he expected jurors to clear Marshall, a stocky 30-year-old who provided his version of the shooting Monday in emotional, regretful testimony. Schwartz called the deputy district attorney’s presentation one-sided, intended merely to persuade jurors to clear the officer.
“The grand jurors took their work very seriously, but ... it was obvious from the first day what would happen,” said Schwartz, of the Walnut Creek-based law firm Casper Meadows & Schwartz. “It’s been my experience that when the district attorney doesn’t ask for an indictment, grand jurors rarely if ever indict.”
Santa Clara County requires a grand jury to decide whether to indict any officer accused of a fatal shooting. Jurors haven’t indicted an officer since the 1970s.
Schwartz said the Tran family still planned to file a civil lawsuit against San Jose, former Police Chief William Lansdowne and Marshall. The lawsuit in federal court will seek financial compensation for Tran’s sons, ages 2 and 4, and her parents.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Dan Nishigaya, who had presented evidence to jurors over the last two weeks, denied allegations that his presentation was one-sided. The jurors’ decision ends the county’s involvement in the case.
“I attempted to present the evidence in a way that was impartial to both sides, but still within my legal obligations,” Nishigaya said.