By TOM LAVENTURE
AAP staff writer
MINNEAPOLIS (October 2, 2010) – The Justice for Fong Lee Committee held a rally Saturday, next to the spot where the 19 year-old was killed along side North Minneapolis Cityview Elementary School on July 22, 2006. The Hmong teenager was running from a Minneapolis Police Officer, Jason Andersen, who shot Fong Lee eight times – claiming the youth was turning with the intent to shoot at him. Family and supporters have claimed Lee did not have a gun and that it was a cover up.
The family of Fong Lee, including parents, Nou Kai Lee and Youa Vang Lee, lost a wrongful death suit against the officer in civil court and the U.S. Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals denied the request for a new trial in May 2009.
Attorney Janelle Yang, acting as legal contact for the family, said they are now represented by the law firm, Hilliard, Muñoz, and Gonzales, to petition the Supreme Court of the United States to overturn the Eighth Circuit Court decision not to award the appeal of the Fong Lee family. The firm believes there are a number of issues in the case that warrant review.
Minneapolis Police Chief Timothy J. Dolan, said in an interview earlier this year that allegations of police misconduct were churned out by attorneys to the press before the trial began. He said the allegations were proven otherwise in the courts but that the doubts stirred by the reports had already done its damage to the larger community, and reinforced when the officer was later fired on another brutality charge.
“We talked to everybody that we can talk to in the Hmong community,” said Dolan. “What the officer did was appropriate.”
Dolan fired Andersen a year ago for violating MPD ethics policies on another charge. The police union appealed and a state arbitrator returned Anderson to the force, but he was fired again last month for violating the MDP code on “truthfulness.”
Anderson is currently indicted on federal charges for alleged abuse while part of the now-defunct Metro Gang Strike Force.
However, Dolan said Anderson’s actions on the Fong Lee were appropriate. He said the case went through an internal affairs process, a grand jury process; and was investigated by the FBI Civil Rights at the Department of Justice.
The rotating camera unfortunately did not show Fong Lee turning back toward the officer with a gun, he added. However, he said an officer from another agency testified that he saw the gun in Fong Lee’s hand and that nobody approached the body after the shooting until the supervisors arrived on the scene.
“It’s about as clean of a shoot as you can get other than the whole thing wasn’t caught on camera,” he added.
The supporters want to undo the city’s praise for Officer Anderson, who was presented with Medal of Valor during the ongoing investigation of the shooting. Volunteers recognized the work of the Coalition for Community Relations that sent observers to the Youa Vang Lee v Jason Andersen civil trial that Anderson of using excessive force in May 2009.
CCR expressed concern about an all-white jury and why assertions that Fong Lee had a questionable gang affiliation was allowed as testimony while accounts of the officer’s alleged “racial slurs” were not.
Tou Saiko Lee served as emcee, leading a few hundred community activists signs along a coned path that Fong Lee ran while being pursued by the officer. The spot of the shooting was marked by flowers. Community leaders were present to make statements of support.
Justice for Fong Lee Committee member Eva Song said she found the strength of the Lee family to be inspiring and said updates would be posted on the Justice for Fong Lee Facebook Page.
“Without community support this case is not going anywhere,” she added.
Fong Lee was reportedly riding bikes with friends near the Cityview Elementary when Minneapolis police officers chased them across the playground. Officer Andersen shot Fong Lee eight times, in the back, side, and then five more shots into Lee’s chest as he lay on the ground.
In 2009 the family of Fong Lee brought a wrongful death lawsuit against the City of Minneapolis and Andersen, citing experts that testified surveillance cameras showed Fong Lee did not have a gun and claimed the gun at the scene was planted by police.
David Bicking, whose appointment on the Minneapolis Civilian Review Authority was not renewed, said it was because he wanted to make the CRA more effective for cases such as this.
“We know that we need an organization that can do an independent investigation independent of the police department,” said Bicking, who called the internal affairs work with the Fong Lee case a whitewash.
Bicking said the MPD has incentives not to discipline because the rules allow for public disclosure only when discipline is exercised.
“The city and the CRA has no credibility because they have never done anything about this in the past,” he added. “The CRA just doesn’t have the authority.”
Al Flowers said the African American community is used to the brutality, and that anyone who questions the injustice need only look at what was happening with the Gang Strike Force acting at will to exploit people – and then were not charged with anything for what they did.
“We have to take it on and come together as a community to fight against the government, the mayor and the council, those people know this is injustice but they have to defend the city even when its is wrong and it shouldn’t be that way,” said Flowers.
Michelle Gross, a member of Communities United Against Police Brutality, was present with fellow member Dale Robinson, who said he was also a victim of police brutality.
Gross has worked on the police misconduct issue for several years, said the lack of police accountability goes beyond the officers involved in this case and the administration and the courts.
“This case is the crucible in which the community pins its hopes for overturning police brutality, and corruption and for gaining accountability,” said Gross. “This ground is sacred, hallowed ground it’s the battle ground between a system hell bent on covering for brutal cops and for a community even more determined to achieve justice for this family and for the community and for accountability for brutal police.”
Green Party Gubernatorial candidate, Farheen Hakeem, said the issue of immigrant rights is a taboo topic and called elected officials cowards for not being present to speak at the event.
“You are here as a multiracial movement,” she said.
Alondra Kiawitl Espejel, associate director, Minnesota Immigrant Freedom Network, said immigrants need to work together because they are exploited and divided by issues like this as individuals. She said that Fong Lee riding a bike was not a crime and that is in the same spirit of the humble, undocumented people who are fighting for justice.
For information or to support contact the Justice for Fong Lee Committee, 612-424-1166 [email protected] or Janelle Yang at 952-201-0383.