A police report said the officers hit 20-year-old Phuong Ho more than ten times with a metal baton and used a Taser gun as they took him into custody inside his home last month.
CBS Station KPIX correspondent Don Knapp reports that as Ho was arrested, a cell phone video taken by one of Ho's roommates shows police repeatedly hitting the suspect, including at least one baton strike that appears to come after Ho is handcuffed and on the floor.
The video of the September 3 incident, first posted by the San Jose Mercury News on its Web site late Saturday, prompted a criminal investigation.
"It takes me back to the day I saw the Rodney King video on TV," said Roger Clark, a police expert and a retired lieutenant with the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department.
The last baton strike ought to bring a felony charge, Clark said.
San Jose Police Chief Rob Davis said officers Kenneth Siegel, Steven Payne Jr., Jerome Smith and Gabriel Reyes have been placed on paid leave.
Police reports said Siegel used his baton and Payne used his Taser as Ho kicked and refused to heed orders.
Siegel's attorney, Terry Bowman, said the video leaves out details that would show why the officers acted as they did.
The video, made without the knowledge of officers at the scene, shows force being used even though the suspect was on the ground, and apparently offering no physical threat to the officers.
The confrontation began Sept. 3 when Ho's roommate, Jeremy Suftin, put soap on Ho's steak. The two men scuffled, and Ho picked up a steak knife, saying that in his home country he would have killed Suftin for doing what he did.
Police were called, and four officers responded.
Ho was not armed when police arrived. He told the Mercury News he didn't resist arrest.
Officer Kenneth Siegel encountered Ho in the hallway, but couldn't understand the student's accent, police reports said. Ho then ignored a police command to stand still, reports said.
When Ho tried to follow Siegel into his room, Officer Steven Payne Jr. moved to handcuff Ho. Payne wrote in his report that he pushed the student into a wall and then forced him to the floor when he resisted being handcuffed.
Ho, who weighs more than 200 lbs., said his glasses fell off. As he went to pick them up, the officers struck him, he said.
Another one of Ho's roommates, Dimitri Masouris, captured the events on his cell phone. An officer can be heard on the video shouting, "Turn over!" Ho can be heard moaning and crying as he's struck.
"In philosophy, they call it 'dehumanization,'" Ho told the Mercury News. "So when they think me a dangerous guy, they don't treat me like I was human. They hit me like an animal or something."
He faces misdemeanor charges of exhibiting a deadly weapon and resisting arrest.
Masouris said he considered the police response excessive. He sold the tape to San Jose lawyer Duyen Hoang Nguyen, who is representing Ho.
The Mercury News obtained a copy of the video and showed it to Daniel Katz, San Jose's assistant police chief. The police department is taking the matter very seriously, he said.
The city's large Vietnamese-American community is already angry over the police shooting of a mentally ill Vietnamese man in May, the newspaper said in an editorial about Ho's beating. The lack of public disclosure in the investigation that followed was also a problem, the paper said.
The grainy, shaky video is difficult to view, and does not show what transpired before the police responded with blows.
But the violence raised serious concerns.
"Once he is handcuffed, then he is helpless," said Frank Jordan, a former San Francisco police chief and mayor. "If you can show that his hands are behind his back, and he is handcuffed, that is where you get brutality. That would be excessive force."
Siegel and Payne didn't respond to written requests for comment sent through department officials and their union.
Sean Webby of the Mercury News said he does not think Ho is still suffering from injuries but, he told KPIX, "he was pretty beaten up after the incident."
"He had to have a series of staples put in his head, and in his legs, and he had to be treated for a Taser burn," Webby said.
"It's wrong. I can't imagine that something like this would happen in this country," said Ho.
To view the video report from CBS Station KPIX click on the player below