Fong Lee family seeks another chance to try Mpls. officerby Brandt Williams, Minnesota Public Radio
Minneapolis — The family of Fong Lee was back in federal court Wednesday asking for another chance to try the Minneapolis police officer who shot and killed Lee in 2006.
The officer, Jason Andersen, was found not guilty of wrongful death last year. Andersen was later fired for off-duty conduct unrelated to the 2006 shooting. Yesterday, an arbitrator ruled that Andersen should get his job back.
Fong Lee's family says the wrongful death suit against officer Jason Andersen in 2009 could have ended up in their favor if the trial judge had done a few things differently.
For instance, Lee's aunt, Janelle Yang, says the judge prohibited the family's video expert from testifying. She says the expert could have proved that security camera footage showed that Fong Lee was unarmed before Andersen shot him.
"We wanted the whole evidence to be presented -- and all the experts testifying -- to have the opportunity to testify to tell the truth," Yang said. A judge is expected to rule on whether or not to grant a new trial in 90-days.
In the meantime, Yang says the news that Andersen will get his job back adds insult to injury.
Family members say they have evidence that Andersen has made derogatory comments about Asians and that he has a temper. Yang says he shouldn't be on the force.
"We think he should not be in uniform, but yet he's back in uniform again," Yang said. "There is documentation that he has anger issues, anger problems. Why would they rehire him back, to be an officer in uniform again?"
Actually, the city is being forced to rehire officer Andersen after a state arbitrator agreed with Andersen that the city should not have fired him.
Attorney Gregg Corwin represents police officers and other public sector employees in court matters. Corwin says Andersen's exposure in the media made him unpopular. But police officers, like other public sector employees, can't be fired just because people don't like them, Corwin said.
"That's why we have tenure. It's the same justification. That's why judges have long terms and federal judges are appointed for life," he said. "So they don't have to worry about the prevailing public opinion at the time."
But Minneapolis city officials say Andersen wasn't fired because he was unpopular. They say the domestic assault charge was an example of Andersen's poor judgment and conduct unbecoming of an officer.
In their case against Andersen, the city cited another incident where they say the officer showed poor judgment.
Before the domestic assault incident, they say Andersen tried to intimidate the wife of a fellow officer. According to the arbitrator's ruling, the woman was filing a protective order against her husband and Andersen showed up at the hearing in his uniform. The city accused Andersen of making eye contact and using body language to try and intimidate the woman.
However, the arbitrator ruled this was not enough to justify firing Andersen, and he ordered the city to compensate the officer. Attorney Gregg Corwin says that detail is telling.
"What it tells me is, if he's reinstated with full back pay it tells me the city didn't have a really good case," Corwin said. "And the arbitrator felt that it was so egregious that the officer was entitled to get his back pay because it becomes punitive."
But Minneapolis city attorney Susan Segal doesn't see it that way. She says the city mounted it's best case in defense of the police department's position to fire Officer Andersen. Segal says Andersen's successful challenge illustrates the limits of the police chief's power.
"The Police Federation is very vigorous in their defense of their officers, as they should be," Segal said. "The collective bargaining agreement provides real restrictions on the discretion of the chief when it comes to disciplinary actions."
Segal says the Minneapolis Police Federation contests nearly all of Dolan's firings. However, she says that hasn't deterred the chief from cracking down on officers who break the rules. MPR News was unable to get a comment for this story from the police federation.
- All Things Considered, 05/12/2010, 5:48 p.m.