"I'm not attacking or condemning the brotherhood of law enforcement. I'm not saying every Minneapolis cop is bad. I'm saying certain people are corrupt."
-- Duy Ngo 12/6/07
Duy Ngo committed suicide today, at the start of a trial at which he was to testify.
Few cases in a police department that's been beset by turmoil for one reason or another for years, has reeked as much as this one.
Ngo was shot by another cop one night while working undercover. Subsequently, a police chief apologized to him, but the department seemed intent on making sure he knew he was no longer wanted. After he was shot, the police chief didn't visit him in the hospital. The mayor didn't visit him, and rumors began circulating about him.
Just a few days ago, the Pioneer Press' Ruben Rosario mentioned Ngo in a story about friendly-fire police shootings involving "cops of color." Ngo didn't return his phone calls for the story. I was much more lucky. I got to visit with him at his home in Columbia Heights for several hours in December 2007. I've heard from him only sporadically in the last few years.
Before I wrote the piece, a friend of his sent me this e-mail:
I am close friends with Duy Ngo's wife and all of us have watched him suffer for 5 years now. He is a very brave and honorable man to refuse to allow; anyone even his lawyers fo "play the race card." Although I know there are many racist cops on the force; Duy never let that become a tool or weapon for any politician, lawyer or activist to use to further thier own interests. Everyone who know Duy, knows that he loves the brotherhood of law enforcement, even after his own co-workers have betrayed and abandonned him. Duy has a huge heart and would give you the shirt off his back. His parents are the kindest people I have ever met, and his wife is the woman that every man dreams of, beautiful, smart, tough, strong and very down to earth. Duy could have pushed this all the way to a trial and most likely won alot more mone y. Duy just wants his life back. He still wants to be a cop, although I can't imagine why. I can't even imagine the strength for one man to endure 26 surgeries, years of physical therapy, and almost lose his life, home and career because of a trigger-happy/shoot first, ask questions later poor judgemental cop(Storley). Everyone needs to remember this, Duy never wanted to sue the MPLS police, he gave them every opportunity to "Do the right thing." Instead they lied about their investigation and Covered-up the whole thing to hide their mistakes. I hope Duy and his fine family finds a small amount of peace in this long ordeal...We are all very proud of you my friend...Rock On Duy!!!!
What follows is the News Cut post I wrote about the visit.
THE FIGHT FOR DUY NGO'S LIFE
Duy Ngo, the Minneapolis cop who was shot by another police officer in 2003, and who settled a lawsuit against the city two weeks ago, is no longer fighting for his life, or the justice he says he was denied. He is still fighting for his reputation.
Ngo's settlement, his allegations of corruption by the department, and the lawsuit filed this week by five African American police officers alleging discrimination, has focused new attention on the department he says he still loves.
It's a department, he says, that has an "epidemic" of blaming the victim. He's got five years of rumors that won't die, 15 bullet holes, and $4.5 million to prove it.
I spent most of Wednesday afternoon talking to to Ngo about his experience.
Ngo, who fled Vietnam with his family on the day Saigon fell in 1975, joined the Army after his junior year in high school in Minneapolis. He found camaraderie and a purpose, serving as a medic. It is, he said, a camaraderie he never found when he later became a police officer in Minneapolis. (Listen - MP3 :48)
"There were people that I really enjoyed working with, people that I trusted. But it's very cliquish. It's almost clanish, with a lot of the police officers, depending on where they work, what shift they work, who they work for, who they're friends with, what specialty units they've served on together. So, no, I didn't find that same type of camaraderie; not with Minneapolis police officers."
In many ways, his ascension to the Gang Strike Force was perfect for Ngo. He could work independently, often alone. He was having, he says "the time of my life," until February 2003, when he was staking out some suspected drug dens in Minneapolis, and a man approached. (Audio - MP3- 3:30)
...He pulled a gun out and stuck it in my face. I tried to disarm him. I grabbed the gun, and tried to use a disarming technique. As soon as I grabbed the gun, he shot me, to the left of the heart and below the rib cage.
I've been hit by 300-pound linebacker playing football, and they don't hit as hard as a .40 caliber bullet. It hit me so hard, it threw me back in the seat, knocked the wind out of me. I had my tactical vest on, which saved my life, because it's body armor, bullet-proof vest.
It hit so hard it split the skin in three places. It's like if you punched your knuckles against a metal wall, your knuckles would split, because there's bone behind it. Well, there's no bone behind it, it just hit that hard, but it broke the skin open, left a mark that I still have to this day, caused some internal injuries, and I was fighting with this guy. We both had ahold of the gun.
I was trying to get the gun out of his hand. He shot four more times, at least four more times through the passenger door and the floorboard of my squad. At this point, the squad is full of smoke, the muzzle flash from the gun is going off right next to my face, he's able to pull away because of this big puffy jacket, his arm was sliding in his sleeve and I couldn't really hold onto him and he was much bigger than I was."
Ngo called for help, chased the shooter down an alley, lost him, and then collapsed. He needed a friend. Instead he got shot again. (Listen - MP3 2:48)
Seconds later, squad 331, Officers Storlie and Conway's squad. I see their headlights in the distance. Now I'm really hurting and now this intense pain is in my abdomen. I go to my knees. I'd already dropped the gun that was in my left hand, and then I ... when I went to my hands and knees, I dropped the gun that was in my right hand.
I'm holding my left abdomen because it was hurting really bad and they stopped their squad about nine or 10 feet from me. Without any verbal warning, without any commands, without provocation, Officer Storlie jumps out and lights me up with his MP5 submachine gun.
Q: So nobody is saying, 'freeze'? Nobody is saying 'hand's up' to you? Nobody is saying anything.
A: No, not at all. Nothing was said because I guarantee you whatever they told me to do, I would have done. I wanted to be rescued. I didn't want anything more than to get out of that bad situation. I wanted this guy caught.. It's not a deadly-force situation. I didn't match the suspect description, even though they say I looked like a black male -- and they never said that in the beginning, that's what I mean about this evolving story. They say that years later. 'Oh, well, we shot him because he looked like a black male.' Well, you can't even shoot the black, male suspect... any black male if they're on their hands and knees.
But I know I don't look like a black male. I know that was an absolute lie. They had to say something to justify the deadline force, but there was only one officer -- Storlie -- who used deadly force. Officer Conway did not. He recognized that I was a police officer. I'm not sure how he recognized me, whether it was the badge or the insignia or just my face, but he didn't use deadly force. He didn't shoot. No matter what he says, he didn't use deadly force.
Ngo spent two weeks in the hospital, never getting a visit from his police chief, never getting a visit from his mayor, all of whom, he says, were trying to avoid him, while the department spread rumors to discredit his version of being shot by friendly fire. Looking back, perhaps he shouldn't have been surprised. (Listen - MP3 4:13)
I think that we have to keep in mind the SWAT team is very close to the police union. They're all in bed together. I think they always try to justify even bad acts and this was a bad act. I think it's victim blaming, which they quite often do.
We can use the example, I hate getting involved in these kind of politics but you go back to the recent lawsuit that was filed by the five black officers, that one of their high-ranking officials publicly announced that this victim who was killed was out there buying marijuana. Does that matter why he was out there? Does the victims indiscretion justify someone killing him? No. One thing has nothing to do with the other, but somehow they tried to cast him in this negative light, and I think so often they do that just so that they can somehow justify those bad actions on their parts.
Q: And that's a recent case -- last summer -- then you have your case. Before either one of those, did you see evidence of that in the department as kind of a systemic thing where they would leak rumors and information about ... victims or others to cover their own misdeeds or tracks?
A: I saw and heard it all the time. It was an epidemic. It was widespread throughout the whole police department. A lot of that is a defense mechanism; most police officers feel like they're unfairly scrutinized and they're attacked by the public and the media goes after them and reports on police actions negatively, biasly and unfairly. Even if it doesn't get into the public arena, I heard it over and over again. The victim-blaming game. I've heard over these almost five years now, I've heard every reason why that night that I was shot why I was wrong, why I made the mistake. I've heard cops say why I wasn't supposed to be out there. Whatever way that they've come up with to point out that if they were in that situation, they never would've been shot because they did the right thing and I believe that they honestly believe they have to say those things because otherwise it would become a reality to them that they would have to accept the fact that this could happen to any one of us.
At a subsequent fundraiser to help pay his medical bills (the city paid nothing), the mayor of St. Paul showed up, officers from other metro departments showed up, officers from rural Minnesota showed up. But only one official from the Minneapolis police department attended.
At a hearing before a judge last month, in which a settlement of his lawsuit was reached, Ngo thought the department would force his resignation as a condition. Instead, they said they wanted him back. That, he says, is the best thing he's heard in five years. But there are some things he wants not to hear. (Listen - MP3 4:45)
For as long as I stay on this police department, long after I leave and many generations to come, they'll always tell those lies. They'll always keep spreading those rumors.
Just two days ago, a law-enforcement student told me that a firearms instructor on the SWAT team has been bitching and complaining, has been swearing and yelling about me and how I made the police department look bad and how they offered me $9 million to quit and I wouldn't take it and that I'd made life hard for other cops on the police department because of the policy changes and that I hurt his friend, being Officer Storlie, and whatever other things that they've tried to blame me for.
It's fair to say that Officer Duy Ngo was killed in the line of duty, and today succumbed to his wounds. He should be given full police honors. Tragic.
Here's a guy that was doing a job and being a "team player" and in the end everyone exiled him. He killed himself and they they mentioned his death in the shortest span imaginable.
The Strib's David Chanen reports Ngo's suicide today and borrows heavily from his March 2008 story entitled, "Five years after shooting cop, he still feels in the line of fire."
In both stories Chanen gives Storlie's version of the events leading up to the shooting and reports in the 2008 article that, "Storlie spoke publicly about the shooting for the first time last week and said his actions were justified."
It appears to me that this isn't exactly true.
One would think that a defendant responding to a plaintiff in a Federal Court would constitute speaking "publicly" - which Storlie, as a defendant, did in early 2007.
Without getting into "the why" both parties were before the 8th District Court of Appeals, it is interesting to note the following sentence in the Court's ruling: "Storlie accepts all of Ngo’s alleged facts as true for purposes of summary judgment."
Now I am aware that the Court's statement is qualified and Storlie could have very well argued differently in the civil trial, but the Court made its 2007 ruling based on the facts as Ngo presented them.
Ngo's version of what happened that night differs significantly from what the Strib reports and begs the quesiton, Why didn't Chanen give equal time to the other side of the story?
But the thing that really burns me is that Chanen, in both stories, repeats the "rumor" that Ngo initially shot himself in order to avoid military duty.
Does that unsubstantiated rumor justify a fellow officer lighting him up with an automatic weapon minutes later?
Finally this gentleman is at peace, a peace he should have known years ago.
RIP officer Ngo, You are a true hero! Blessings to your family.
Thank you to Officer Ngo for his superb service to our state and to the City of Minneapolis.
May the PPD learn and grow from his tragic death.
Sincere sympathy to his family, friends and colleagues.
First of all I want to offer my condolences to Duy's wife, family, and friends.
I am a retired Minneapolis Police Sergeant and was an expert witness for Duy in his case against the city.
As I read through the thousands of pages of testimony and police reports I found myself genuinely heartsick over the things that were done and the way Duy was treated by investigators and administrators of the Minneapolis Police Department.
I don't believe for one minute that Chip Storlie went out that night with the intention of killing another cop. Storlie made a mistake, a tragic mistake, that continues to wreak havoc on people's lives to this day.
The vast majority of Minneapolis Police Officers are good men and women trying to do the right thing and it is a real shame that some of them went out of their way make life miserable for Duy Ngo. I hope that some day all the records can be made public and people can see what the MPD did to Duy after the shooting.
Rest in Peace Duy. You deserve it.
My thoughts and prayers go out to Officer Ngo and his family and friends. I am a friend of the family and would like to say that considering the cause of death has not been determined at this time it is wrong of the media to post it as a SUICIDE before the medical examiners and criminal investigators have had a chance to do their job.
Duy was a good guy and he will be missed. My thoughts and prayers go out to his family. He will be missed. RIP.
For a short time that you lived, you truly lived.
You followed your heart, pursued your dreams.
You dared to live
to fight for your love, your beliefs, for as long as you could.
In silence you suffered then succumbed to eternity.
Lives are shattered.
Hearts are breaking, aching. Pain pervades.
yet we will remember & celebrate you.
fly high among the angels
The last time I saw Duy, he was 7 years old. I know his parents well. My heart goes out to his family. Duy always believed in this country-America. He was very naive in a way that some time, it caused problems between him and his parents. He treated every human being the same, no one is better than the others because of the colors of their skin, hair, etc. He believed that everybody is equal. We often told him that there are racist people every where you go, including police departments, or any other government agencies. First he kept saying no, we are wrong. The shooting had really opened his mind and finally proved to him that we are right. He loved this country very much. He loved being an American. To all of those that have negative feelings - you are very wrong. He was a good human being, he was better than you. Rest in peace, my friend. Rest in peace..