Man accused of attacking musician in court

July 21, 2010 5:26:13 PM PDT
A large crowd packed a San Jose courtroom this afternoon in support of a 61-year-old man accused of attacking a musician with pepper spray at a concert in Santa Clara over the weekend.

Tong Ly, a resident of San Jose and a prominent Vietnamese anti-communist crusader, was arraigned on four felony counts -- unauthorized use of tear gas, altering the label of tear gas, willful employment of tear gas in public, and second-degree burglary - and one misdemeanor charge of resisting arrest.

If convicted as currently charged, Tong could face five years in prison, district attorney's office spokeswoman Amy Cornell said.

Tong was arrested Sunday night at the Santa Clara Convention Center after he allegedly attacked musician Dam Vinh Hung with pepper spray, according to police.

He approached the stage dressed as a woman and appeared as if he were presenting a flower to the singer, police said. When the performer attempted take the gift, Tong allegedly sprayed him with the chemical irritant.

The pepper spray affected several concertgoers and another female performer nearby, but no one was injured, police said.

The incident disrupted and delayed the program for about 15 minutes because the audience of several hundred people had to be temporarily evacuated, Lt. Phil Cooke said.

Santa Clara firefighters responded to provide first aid, and the venue was ventilated.

Police believe the assault was politically motivated.

In 2008, Tong led a hunger strike for several weeks in support of allowing proponents of the name Little Saigon to pay for and erect their own sign along a one-mile stretch of Story Road that is dominated by businesses owned by and serving the city's Vietnamese community.

The San Jose City Council at the time wanted to designate the Story Road stretch as the "Saigon Business District," but large numbers of the city's Vietnamese community protested, saying they preferred the name "Little Saigon."

Tong was one of several supporters who staged regular protests at San Jose City Hall and at several city events against San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed and Councilwoman Madison Nguyen, whose district includes the Story Road area, when they refused to back down.

Today, a crowd of more than 100 supporters, many of them elderly members of the Vietnamese community, started gathering outside of the Hall of Justice about an hour before the hearing started. Some passed out flyers, others waved American and Vietnamese flags.

Outside of the courtroom, San Jose resident Brian Do said he was there to learn the facts of the case for himself, but also show his support for the community and "the spirit that (Tong) represents."

Do said he had met Tong for the first time decades ago as an 8-year-old in Galang, Indonesia. Tong had escaped from Vietnam and walked a part of his journey to Indonesia, Do said. Over the years, he saw Tong at various political and community events in Indonesia and in the U.S.

Tong doesn't have many family members in the South Bay, Do said, but he has plenty of friends and supporters.

"I have a lot of respect for what he does for the community," he said.

A Santa Clara man who declined to give his name said he believes Tong attacked the singer because he is a supporter of communism, which goes against what Tong stands for.

"He's doing the right thing for the democratic system," the man said. "We don't want communism."

Tong is being held in Santa Clara County's main jail on $100,000 bail.

Superior Court Judge Jerome Nadler scheduled a bail hearing for Tong on Friday morning.


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