Shooting trial ends first week; city presents case nextby Brandt Williams, Minnesota Public Radio
Throughout the week, a federal jury in St. Paul has been hearing sometimes gruesome testimony in a wrongful death suit against a Minneapolis police officer. The family of Fong Lee accuses Officer Jason Andersen of unjustifiably killing the 19-year-old in 2006. They also say the police planted a gun next to Lee's dead body.
St. Paul, Minn. — The problems for the plaintiff's counsel began with their first witness. Attorney Michael Padden questioned a man who was standing a few hundred feet away from where Fong Lee and his friends were riding their bikes. The witness said the police car driven by Officer Jason Andersen pulled up close behind Lee's bicycle and then ran into it, causing Lee to fall.
But he later admitted making a mistake after he was shown security camera footage which showed that the police car never hit Lee.
Padden ended the first day of the trial by flashing a picture of Lee's bloody corpse on the courtroom monitors. The photo had not been properly entered as evidence and Padden showed the picture with little warning. The photo caused an uproar in the courtroom. There were gasps and sobs from members of Lee's family.
Padden apologized, but Judge Paul Magnuson scolded him. The next morning, Magnuson threatened to grant a mistrial if the plaintiffs counsel pulled anymore of what the judge called 'stunts.'
Later that day, Padden grappled with the accused officer, Jason Andersen. Andersen is the only known living eye-witness to the shooting. And on the stand he budged only slightly from what he's said in pre-trial depositions. Andersen's partner that night, State Trooper Craig Benz, also testified that Fong Lee had a gun and ran when the officers told him to put it down.
A gun was found near Lee's body, but the path it took to get there was the subject of some confusing testimony. And some jurors appeared glassy-eyed as they tried to follow along.
The gun didn't have any trace evidence on it that could tie it to Lee. And plaintiff's attorney Padden sounded incredulous as he asked police forensic scientists how it could be possible that there were no fingerprints or smudges on the weapon. There was a lot of blood at the scene and Padden asked the scientists if they thought it was unusual that no blood or fingerprints were found on the gun. They said no.
The family's lawyer also called an expert witness - an ex-cop from Arizona - Philip Corrigan to offer his opinion on Andersen's performance and use of force. The witness said Andersen did use excessive force, but Minneapolis city attorney Jim Moore left Corrigan's credibility in tatters. He got Corrigan to admit that he was unfamiliar with the 20-year-old case law affecting the current standard for use of force.
The city will begin its case next week and testimony is expected to wrap up late next week.
- All Things Considered, 05/22/2009, 5:50 p.m.