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The restraining orders Her had requested were granted in two separate court appearances in January. The alleged attackers admitted no wrongdoing but agreed to abide by the orders, which prohibited them from having any contact with her. No charges were filed in connection with the alleged incidents. (Neither Her's attorney nor the lawyers representing the two men returned City Pages' calls requesting comment for this story.)
While the orders were wending their way through the court process, police paid another visit to the house on Timberlake Road. According to a January 11 incident report, Hang called authorities to report that Her had phoned him and threatened to "blow his brains out." Hang told police they'd been arguing because she wanted to live at the house, and that she "ran away and would not take care of the children."
While the officer was taking the report, Her phoned and presented her version: "She said she didn't threaten to kill him," the officer noted. "He was the one who threatened to kill her and her boyfriend." According to Mee and Phoua, for several months during this time, Her had been living in a battered women's shelter. Advocates at the shelter won't comment on the matter, citing the facility's privacy rules.
In February, Mee says, the couple came to an agreement about custody. "Hang agreed to split up the kids," she explains. "He was to take the three boys and she the three girls. But when they went to a [county] advocate, he said he didn't want them." Not long afterward, Her made her most explosive allegation yet: She notified authorities that her 8-year-old daughter Nali had told her she had been sexually molested by one of her father's friends.
According to an incident report in the case, on February 25 Her came into the office of A Community Outreach Program (ACOP), a special unit that works in the area around the McDonough projects. She told the officers that she had recently moved back into her house "after [her] husband agreed to move out;" Hang, she said, had no permanent address. When an officer went to interview Nali, he found that she was "intimidated about speaking to an adult male officer," but agreed to tell her story to a female interpreter.
According to the report, Nali told the interpreter that at some point that winter, her father had left home while two of his friends were visiting, and that as soon as their father was gone, the friends came into the girls' bedroom. One of them, she continued, put his hand over her sisters' mouths while the other man fondled her and then tried to rape her. Nali's graphically detailed account was confirmed by the two sisters.
Two weeks later, another officer interviewed one of Nali's brothers at school. He confirmed his sister's story, adding that he had seen the alleged attackers before, that he knew they were "bad men," and that he'd once seen them "trade" handguns with his father on a basketball court. Nali and her brother repeated their story in two more interviews--one with another officer and one with a child-protection worker--over the following month. The children also picked the alleged assailants out of a photo lineup.
On March 24, police arrested one of the suspects, a juvenile, who claimed not to know either Hang or the other suspect. When pressed, he acknowledged that the other suspect was his cousin, and that the two of them had been to Hang's house several times for dinner and martial-arts instruction. Their last visit, he said, had been the previous summer, and he denied having had "any sort of contact" with Nali. Police later interviewed the other suspect at a group home; he told them he had been to a party at Hang's once and had seen the children, but that he had never touched any of them and "appeared stunned that [an officer] would even ask such a question."
When police questioned Hang, he told them that he had never had either of the suspects in his home, and that nobody--including his daughter--had told him of the alleged assault. In another police interview, Hang alleged that he believed "his estranged wife was putting the victim up to this due to [his] seeing another woman."
On March 26, assistant Ramsey County Attorney Chris Wilton ordered the juvenile suspect released from jail. No charges were filed.
As her problems mounted, Her found herself increasingly lonely. Her parents lived in other states; her local relatives and acquaintances had grown distant following the divorce. "She lived in total isolation," Phoua says. "Not like most Hmong women, who, while they marry young and have children, have some kind of connectedness.
"Divorce is tough on the women," Phoua continues. "No one wants to befriend you. Most husbands won't let their wives associate with divorced women, because they view them as bad; they're afraid they'll influence their wives."
Gaoly Yang concurs. "Our tradition indicates that you should be married for life," she says. "And once you go out of the norm, you are ostracized by the majority. People will look down on you, no matter how hard the marriage was."