|Minneapolis police: A mistake, an apology and then
A family whose house was raided by police in error is outraged that eight officers involved were honored. Police say the eight, who also took fire, "performed bravely."
Star Tribune | July 30, 2008
First, the city apologized. Then it gave awards.
Eight Minneapolis officers received medals in City Hall Monday for their valor in a botched raid that the city apologized for last year. That isn't sitting well with the family shot at multiple times by the officers.
"I'm shocked that they're receiving awards for that night," said Yee Moua. "My family is a mess right now. My [9-year-old] son, who saw the shooting, still has nightmares and has needed therapy. They've ruined a life, and I don't understand why they would get rewarded for that."
The awards stemmed from a high-risk search in December. The eight officers -- who had SWAT training -- entered the house expecting to find a violent gang member. Instead, they found Vang Khang, a 35-year-old homeowner who thought he was being robbed. Khang shot through his bedroom door at the officers until he understood who they were.
In the midst of the shootout were Moua, who is Khang's wife, and their six children, who range in age from 3 to 15. Moua said her family has since abandoned the house and can no longer afford to keep it.
Minneapolis police spokesman Sgt. William Palmer said Tuesday the department has acknowledged the raid was a mistake and has apologized to the family. But he said the officers "performed very bravely under gunfire and made smart decisions."
Minneapolis Police Chief Tim Dolan said that he knew giving the award might get negative attention but that "we've never not recognized an officer shot in the line of duty."
Three officers received shrapnel damage to body armor and their ballistic helmets, Palmer said.
Dolan said he did not speak with the family prior to the award ceremony, but he did speak with Hmong community leaders in north Minneapolis who were "mostly understanding."
"I can understand [Moua's] feelings, but the officers didn't make any mistakes and they were able to stop things from getting worse," Dolan said. "Like the old maxim says, 'You don't punish your officers for the mistake of the general.'"
'We almost died that night'
Police said they acted on bad information from an informant, who reportedly was a victim of a crime at a house in the 1300 block of Logan Avenue N. Police said they had no reason to believe the information was inaccurate and they had the right address on the warrant, but the house wasn't occupied by anybody they wanted.
The raid was part of an investigation by the department's Violent Offender Task Force, which typically goes after the most violent gang members and drug dealers. Officers had retrieved guns in searches connected with the case before the raid.
According to police, officers entered the home without knocking -- a standard procedure in cases where officers expected to find weapons -- and called out, "Police!" as they searched the home's first floor. They didn't find anybody, so went to the second floor. At a small landing at the top of the stairs, they again shouted, "Police!"
Shots then came through the walls and doors as officers searched two bedrooms, police said. It was Khang shooting from a third bedroom.
Authorities said there were children in the other bedrooms, and the officers quickly realized there was a language barrier. The older children were able to communicate to their father that police were in the house and to stop shooting.
"As soon as they started taking fire, [officers] got in front of the kids and used their body as a shield," Palmer said. "They used great restraint and shot precisely at where the bullets were coming back from."
Moua disputed the police account.
"They never identified themselves; we thought they were a whole bunch of drunk, crazy guys," she said. "We didn't know anything until my oldest son yelled, 'Dad, it's the police!'"
She also said the officers did not try to protect her children, but rather hid themselves behind furniture and shot back indiscriminately. She said officers treated her and her husband roughly, and did not explain the situation after the two surrendered.
"They stepped on my husband, and we kept asking, 'Where are the bad guys?'" she said. "We were just trying to protect ours kids. We almost died that night."
Lawsuit against the city
Sgt. Jesse Garcia said the city conducted an internal affairs investigation after the raid and the SWAT team was cleared of any wrongdoing. He said no other details were available because the investigation was still open.
Casper Hill, a spokesman for the city of Minneapolis, said the city has reimbursed the Khang family $7,500 for "miscellaneous expenses."
The family's lawyer, Thomas Heffelfinger, said that he has had ongoing conversations with the city attorney's office and that there will be a lawsuit if they cannot reach a resolution.
"They fired 22 rounds with 9 millimeter automatic weapons into a room with two adults and four children," Heffelfinger said. "That's not protecting kids. They were firing at a room they couldn't see into. They fired with the intent to kill the person on the other side of the door.
"To give these men awards for that behavior is nothing more than an attempt to sanitize their conduct."
Heffelfinger also said the family had lived at the house for four years and had no history of wrongdoing. He said police "failed to do their homework" and "acted outrageously once they got there."
Officers receiving medals of commendation included Sgt. Nicholas Torborg and officers Steven Blackwell, Matthew Kaminski, Ricardo Muro and Craig Taylor. Sgt. Michael Young and officers John Sheneman and Alan Williams received medals of valor.
"We knew there might be political implications with this," Palmer said. "We're not passing judgment today on the rest of what happened there. But those officers were shot in the line of duty, and there isn't an appropriate level of award for that."