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

He has little confidence in the investigation that is now underway. After all, it is being conducted by the Minneapolis Police Department. "It reeks of impropriety because they're investigating their own shooting," Ngo scoffs. "That seems like a total conflict of interest." In the past the force has shown little interest in disciplining its own officers or supporting minority employees who don't toe the line. Ngo's worried that the department is abandoning him in order to protect its own reputation. "Depending on how this goes, it can be considered a major black eye for the police department," he says. "It's a huge blunder to have a cop shoot another cop that severely."

The shooting has left him with a crippled left arm, two hobbled legs, and a butchered groin area. His most lasting scars, however, will be psychological and emotional. The rigidly ordered life he had built--cop, soldier, father--has vanished from beneath his feet.

 

As Duy Ngo was being wheeled into the operating room at Hennepin County Medical Center, he reached out to the cop who had shot him just a few hours earlier. "Please tell the officer it wasn't his fault," he reportedly said. "I'm not mad at him."

The media and the police department have not been as forgiving of Ngo. Even as he clung to his life at the hospital, the perception of what happened that night was being shaped in the public mind. Instead of questioning why Storlie had opened fire on a fellow officer with a submachine gun, Ngo's own police work came under scrutiny. He was criticized by Minnesota Gang Strike Force Commander Ron Ryan for working surveillance alone in a dangerous neighborhood, even though this is a fairly common--if frowned upon--practice for gang investigators. Then it was reported by the Star Tribune that in 2000 Ngo had been suspended for one day for allegedly making monkey noises while responding to a call at a Somali church. Although Ngo concedes that he behaved poorly, he says his actions were not race-inspired, noting that his partner at the time was black. "My goofing around had nothing to do with race," he says.

The cruelest blow, however, came in a report by Fox 9. After playing a tape of Ngo's 911 call from the night that he was shot, reporter Sue Turner stated that there was a rumor that the officer had turned his gun on himself in order to avoid reporting for military duty. Although the report subsequently noted that the police department refused to put any credence to these rumors, the damage had already been done. In the public's eye, Ngo worried that he had been transformed into a shoddy, racist cop and an unpatriotic coward.

At the time that Ngo made his statement of support for his fellow officer he believed that he was going to die. "I wanted to make it very clear that if I was going to die that he knew I wasn't angry at him," Ngo says.

The two officers are acquaintances. Storlie instructed Ngo in marksmanship last year at the Fourth Precinct police shooting range. They had shared at least one meal together, a Christmas gathering at the Ukrainian-American Event Center. The two had occasionally responded to the same police calls. Despite these ties, Ngo is no longer as diplomatic about Storlie's culpability in what happened. "It's totally his fault," he says flatly. "He had no business shooting at me."

It's not the first time that Storlie has been involved in a controversial shooting. In 1997 he shot 15-year-old Lawrence Miles Jr. in the back. Miles had been playing with a BB gun in the early morning hours and Storlie claimed that he pointed the toy gun at his partner. The incident inspired outrage and protests in Minneapolis. Storlie was exonerated by the Police Department, however, and last year a federal jury declined to award damages to Miles in a civil lawsuit.

Ngo is seated at a booth in the Perkins restaurant in the Seward neighborhood during the weekday lunch rush. His intense brown eyes are focused straight ahead as he talks about the shooting and its aftermath. Ngo ticks off the parts of his anatomy that were struck by bullets: arm, leg, groin, butt, chest, back. "The only place I wasn't hit was in the head," he notes. Ngo speaks in an emotionless monotone, as if he were reciting the bus schedule. His closely cropped black hair shows a few flecks of gray. "No human being should take that amount of pain," he continues. "I have 14 holes in my body, entry and exit wounds."

Ngo then gingerly removes the sling that holds his left arm in place and pulls up the sleeve of a navy blue sweatshirt. His forearm is a gnarled, misshapen mess. On one side is a massive purplish wound with a texture reminiscent of snakeskin. The other side of his arm features a foot-long, railroad-track scar where it was sliced open so that doctors could replace the shattered bone with two metal rods. "I'm in constant pain, pain so bad that I don't sleep," he says. "My livelihood's been literally ruined by this."

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