Duy Ngo in 2003 (AAP photo by Emmett Timmons)
AAP staff report
It was announced this week that Duy Ngo, 37, the Minneapolis Police Officer who was shot in the line of duty in 2003 by a fellow officer, enduring years of health and legal battles to clear his name and seek justice with the city – has reportedly taken his own life in his Mendota Heights home. Ngo is survived by his spouse Mary, a daughter, Isabella, 9, parents and a brother.
The community rallied behind Duy Ngo in the months and years following his injuries and learned of the physical anguish he felt from his wounds – and of his personal anguish at not being able to serve in his full capacity as a police officer. His death leaves more questions, however, of the severity of his physical and psychological wounds.
Duy Ngo was a Minneapolis Police Officer working with the Minnesota Gang Strike Force on Feb. 25, 2003. He was working in plain clothes late night to wrap up some of his unfinished work before reporting to his U.S. Army Reserve Unit to deploy to Afghanistan where he would serve as a medic.
Ngo recalled that he was shot while parked in his unmarked Gang Strike Force vehicle by an unknown suspect while he was observing activity in the early morning hours. He was wearing a protective vest that took the brunt of the shot, and he pursued the would-be assailant until collapsing on the street from his injuries.
MPD Officers Jamie Conway and Charles Storlie responded to the call and found Ngo on the ground under a lit streetlamp. Storlie shot Ngo with multiple bursts from an MP-5 machine gun, shattering his left forearm, leg and groin.
Ngo nearly died from his injuries but survived only to face blame from his own department for his wounds as he underwent follow-up surgeries and painful physical therapy.
The community also began to question why Ngo was not recognized for his injuries in the line of duty and why the department appeared to be protecting the officer that shot him.
In June 2003 the Asian community honored Ngo at a fundraiser at Minneapolis Technical College to support his family and infant daughter as medical bills piled up and the city stalled the legal process. The event was organized by Mary Ann Padua, vice president MTC Student Senate and KimChau Ngo, president of the Vietnamese Community of Minnesota.
St. Paul Mayor Randy Kelly presented Ngo with a plaque for his brave service on behalf of the State of Minnesota – calling into question why the city of Minneapolis has not conducted this honor.
Ngo filed a federal lawsuit against the City and Office Charles Storlie soon after for damages. He was represented by attorney Robert Bennett, a managing partner at Flynn, Gaskins Bennett, LLP.
It took an entire year for the MPD or the City to speak publicly on the Ngo case. MPD Police Chief Robert Olson’s contract was not renewed. In February 2004 the new Chief William P. McManus wanted to clear the air of the rumors and innuendo surrounding the Duy Ngo case. He said the MPD was divided, and the investigation was hampered and prolonged.
McManus publicly apologized to Ngo and allowed him return to work part time the following week as his lengthy physical therapy sessions allowed.
Prior to taking office McManus said he was reviewing departmental archives when the Ngo case stood out for its inconsistent reports and he began to form questions regarding forensic evidence. He questioned the investigators and ordered it turned in to his office immediately.
McManus dismissed persistent rumors that Ngo’s wounds were self-inflicted, or that he had arranged to have himself wounded to avoid deployment with his Army Reserve unit to Afghanistan.
In addition to a criminal justice degree, Ngo was completing studies in nursing at MTC. He planned to become a military officer, but instead received a Medical Discharge from the U.S. Army in December 2005.
Ngo recalled the event as “a terrible tragedy” and was shocked at the rumors he heard from friends and former partners. He was glad to see the matter finally going in the right direction as he began working while undergoing physical therapy to improve the use of his left arm and hand.
William McManus has since resigned to lead another Police Department. The interim Chief Tim Dolan is now the permanent MPD Chief.
On November 26, 2007, nearly six years after Officer Ngo was shot, the Minneapolis City Council voted in a closed half-hour session to approve a $4.5 million settlement over police misconduct and the inappropriate use of a semi-automatic weapon by a fellow police officer. The Council members voted 11 to 1 in favor. Robert Lilligren was absent and the ‘no’ vote came from Lisa Goodman, who chairs the Claims Committee.
In addition, the State of Minnesota settled with Ngo for workers compensation over medical bills sustained from the injury.
The historic settlement “was never about the money,” Ngo commented at the time. “It was about justice.”
“There is no amount of money that anyone could offer a person, or offer me, who has almost been killed, for the suffering, all of the pain over the past five years, the lost time, the toll it took on my family and anybody who has supported me all the way though.”
“I am picking up the pieces and moving on and can finally believe that I can put this behind me,” he added.
Ngo’s attorney, Robert Bennett, paid tribute to Ngo, asking why this case is unprecedented for his not receiving honors and recognition for injuries sustained in the line of duty. The lawsuit, he added, wasn’t filed for nearly four-months after the incident and allowed the city plenty of time to honor Ngo and discuss the matter.
The case moved forward only after the U.S. Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit denied the city’s motion for summary judgment on immunity – saying there was enough evidence available to support Ngo’s claim of excessive deadly force and police misconduct for inappropriate use of a semi-automatic weapon.
The judgment proved that Ngo did everything that an officer is trained to do as a plain clothes officer who is down and waiting for backup to arrive, he added. One officer decided to use deadly force and the other did not.
MPD policies have since changed. The chief is now debriefed within 48 hours of a serious incident involving department officers. It had taken eight days for a detailed report on the Ngo incident to be reviewed by then Chief Olson. The incident also brought to light the importance for area police departments to be aware of plainclothes activity. o