Shot to Hell

Duy Ngo, The Minneapolis police officer wounded by one of his own colleagues in a February drug stakeout, speaks out for the first time

This much is known about what took place during the early morning hours of February 25. Minneapolis police officer Duy Ngo, a five-year veteran of the force, was working surveillance by himself in south Minneapolis's Central neighborhood. Around 2:00 in the morning, he was parked at the south end of the alley between the 3500 blocks of Third and Clinton Avenues. He was observing a couple of houses that were suspected of being gang-run drug dens. Ngo was in plainclothes--jeans, black sweatshirt, and brown boots--and was driving an unmarked green Buick Century. He was packing three guns: a pistol in his back pocket and two Beretta 9mms, one on his hip and one in his vest. It was a bitter cold night, with the temperature hovering around zero degrees.

Ngo knew the neighborhood well. He grew up in Central, in a one-level rambler near McRae Park, after emigrating from Vietnam with his family when he was two years old. Most of his tenure as a cop had been spent patrolling the Third Precinct in south Minneapolis. In early January, however, in the wake of the gang shooting of 11-year-old Tyesha Edwards, Ngo and six other Minneapolis officers were reassigned to the Minnesota Gang Strike Force. It was a post he'd always coveted.

In roughly 36 hours Ngo was slated to report to Fort Snelling for active duty in the U.S. Army. For 13 years he'd served as a medic, and with war looming in Iraq he'd been called up for service. Earlier in the day he'd said his goodbyes to fellow officers.

Ngo was trying to tie up loose investigative ends before departing. He didn't plan on sleeping at all that night. Money was also on his mind: He wanted to pick up as much overtime pay as possible prior to taking leave. With his wife staying at home to care for their 14-month-old daughter, finances were tight.

Earlier in the evening Ngo had phoned in his coordinates to police dispatch so that officers would be aware of his presence. He had the window rolled down so that he could smoke a cigarette. Around 2:15, a man approached Ngo's vehicle from the rear. The stranger said something to Ngo and then pulled out a gun and shot him in the chest through the window. The officer's bulletproof vest prevented the round from piercing his skin, however, and the two men struggled for the gun. Several more shots were fired inside the car, filling it with smoke.

When the assailant finally bolted, Ngo attempted to pursue him on foot through the alley. He radioed for help as he ran: "Officer down, 36th and Third." Ngo opened fired on the assailant, but to no avail. The man slipped between two houses and was gone.

The shot to Ngo's chest had knocked the wind out of him. He was having trouble breathing. He hit the ground and waited for backup.

Minutes later officers Charles Storlie and Jamie Conway arrived on the scene. What happened in the next few moments is impossible to describe in exact detail. According to the police, Ngo had one gun in his hand and another by his side when the officers arrived. The police department also maintains that Storlie called out to the stricken man. He then opened fire. Ngo's body was riddled with bullets from an MP5 submachine gun. The number of hits reported has varied. Initially the count was four, then five, then six. Ngo's own tally is at least eight. Nobody seems to know for sure.

The original assailant has never been caught. Storlie was placed on paid leave for three days (standard policy for an officer involved in a shooting) and then went back to work. Ngo remains on medical leave, uncertain if he will ever recover sufficiently to return to the police force or the Army.

Because the shooting remains under investigation, the Minneapolis Police Department will not discuss it. "If the investigation's open we can't talk about the details of it," says Deputy Chief Lucy Gerold.

Ngo too refuses to talk on the record about what happened after the two officers arrived on the scene. He's afraid the police brass will use his words as a pretext to fire him. Ngo will only say this much about the fateful moments in the early morning hours of February 25: "What's been reported and what really happened are two different things."

Ngo is a cop's cop, fiercely proud of the badge and devoutly loyal to his fellow officers. "I've always gotten into heated debates with people who spoke ill of the police department or its officers," he says. "I put my heart and soul into this career."

But since the shooting his faith in the Minneapolis Police Department has been shaken. During the two weeks that Ngo was laid up in the hospital, Chief Robert Olson never paid a visit. "I had tremendous support from my fellow officers and none from the administration, and they're the people I would expect to be there," he says.

Ngo has also seen his reputation impugned in the media. He was criticized for working alone and labeled a racist. It's even been suggested that he may have shot himself.

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