Thu, Sep 01, 2005 - Page 7 News List

Chinese businesswoman sees US assaulter in court


A Chinese businesswoman faced the US Homeland Security officer accused of beating her during a dramatic courtroom encounter, where she vowed she will "always remember his face."

"How could I not know him," Zhao Yan cried on Tuesday when asked whether the officer was present in the US District Court. "He beat me up with savagery and brutality. I will always remember his face my whole life."

The declaration, delivered through an interpreter, ended Zhao's first day on the stand in the trial of Customs and Border Protection Officer Robert Rhodes.

The veteran officer is charged with violating Zhao's civil rights by using excessive force while taking her into custody at the Rainbow Bridge in Niagara Falls last July.

Zhao testified that she believed three or more officers took part in the beating. Only Rhodes has been charged.

Zhao, 38, who owns a furniture company in Tianjin, is suing the US government for US$10 million over the July last year incident that drew intense interest in China after pictures of Zhao, in a wheelchair with scrapes on her forehead and two black eyes, were widely published.

Zhao, who frequently cried while describing her visit to Niagara Falls, New York, had made the stop during a business trip to the US, which she said was at the invitation of Pennsylvania economic development officials.

After taking a tour bus from New York City to Niagara Falls, Zhao and two women she had met over dinner came upon a US customs inspection station during a nighttime sightseeing outing. Zhao's companion, Xie Fang, testified on Monday that they peered through the doors and saw an officer pinning a black man to the floor, then became frightened when Rhodes beckoned toward the women and rushed to the door.

While the two other women ran, Zhao testified that she froze, fearing she would be shot.

When Rhodes approached her, she said she spoke to him in broken English: "I'm from China, on business to America. My visa in my bag."

But the officer doused her with pepper spray, sending her dazed and blinded to the ground, she said.

"My whole face was burning then I felt a strong blow," she said. "I saw dark. There were stars before my eyes."

"My feeling was there were three or more than three [officers] who were surrounding me and somebody was kicking me on my face," said Zhao, who at times had difficulty speaking through her sobs.

Zhao said she could not see her attackers through the pepper spray, and identified only Rhodes when asked by defense lawyer Steven Cohen whether the officer who had used the pepper spray was in the courtroom.

The trial was attended on Tuesday by several Chinese students attending college in Buffalo, who said they were there to support Zhao, as well as representatives from the Chinese Consulate General's office in New York City.

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