Vietnamese-American woman, 23, beaten to death at nightclub

Police face wall of silence from witnesses and friends amid deep distrust for law enforces, stalling investigation into Kim Pham's death

PUBLISHED : Monday, 27 January, 2014, 9:16am
UPDATED : Monday, 27 January, 2014, 9:16am

Police detectives are having trouble unravelling a nightclub brawl that left a 23-year-old Vietnamese-American woman dead because they could not identify many of the victim’s friends and others would not talk to them.

Investigators probing the death of Kim Pham, 23, outside a Santa Ana hotspot have only identified one of the eight friends who were with her, the Los Angeles Times reported on Sunday.

Her ex-boyfriend, who may have tried to help her, has not come forward and the one female friend that police have found would not talk, the paper reported.

Two women have been arrested in Pham’s death and police are seeking a third woman.

Distrust of the government and of police runs deep in Orange County’s Vietnamese-American community, where many residents are refugees or the children and grandchildren of refugees who fled to the US during and after the Vietnam war.

Although many younger Vietnamese-Americans are thoroughly Westernised, they could be avoiding police on the advice of their parents or out of respect for their concerns, said Police Commander Tim Vu, the highest-ranking Vietnamese-American law enforcement officer in Orange County.

“People worry that there will be retaliation,” Vu told the Times. “They don’t know the court system and are intimidated by it.”

Some may believe they could be retaliated against as witnesses, a belief that is hard to counter, Vu said.

A cellphone video shows the Chapman University graduate and aspiring writer getting beaten and stomped as a crowd gathers around. A reward for information in the case stands at US$11,000.

“We need to reassure immigrants or potential witnesses that it’s not about them,” he said. “It’s about all the evidence and all other witnesses.”

Pham, of Huntington Beach, was taken off life support last week.

Civic leaders are now reaching out to witnesses through the Vietnamese-language media, stressing they will be treated with respect if they come forward and can meet privately with the police chief or even the mayor.

“Their identities will be protected if they wish,” said Ken Nguyen, a volunteer who acts as Santa Ana’s liaison to the local Vietnamese community. “These are the things we offered the youths, and so far, they are quiet.”