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

Ngo's left hand is all but useless. He can't make a fist. Nor can he button his shirt or tie his shoes. "It's demoralizing for a 30-year-old man to ask his wife to tie his shoe," he says.

Dean Ngo, his younger brother, says the transformation has been psychological as well as physical. "I look at my brother now and he's not even the same person," he laments. "He doesn't have the confidence that he once had. He seems diminished. He seems weaker, mentally and emotionally. His body is healing. I don't know about the rest of him yet. He survived that incident but he still lost his whole life."

Ron Ryan, commander of the Minnesota Gang Strike Force, has noticed the same downward spiral. "The kid's terribly depressed," says Ryan. "I can't say I know how he feels because I'm not in his dilemma, but this has got to be killing him."

Michael Dvorak

Ryan says that Ngo made a mistake by going out on his own that night, but one that is not uncommon or in violation of written policies. "When I was younger I probably did the same thing," he notes. "It's not the proper thing. Does it happen? It does."

Ryan says that Ngo would be welcome back at the gang strike force anytime, but his injuries may prevent him from ever working as a cop again. Even if he is able to return to the job, Ngo worries that his ability to work undercover has been compromised by having his picture plastered all over television screens and newspapers. He's upset that the police department released his photo to the media. With his initial assailant still on the loose he is also concerned about the safety of himself and his family. "If the suspect didn't know who I was that night he sure knows who I am now," he says.

 

Duy Ngo limps to the podium at Minneapolis Community and Technical College. Roughly 30 people are assembled on this weekday afternoon in late April for a forum on "Violence and Victim Awareness" sponsored by the school's Asian American Multicultural Association.

Ngo completed a nursing degree at the college last year and two former professors have just finished heaping accolades on him. The wounded officer keeps his comments brief. He warns of the dangers of gangs and violence. He refers only obliquely to his own shooting. "If it happened to me it could happen to any of you," he says.

Only when the forum is opened to questions, and Ngo is pressed to explain exactly what happened to him, does he provide some details about the shooting. When asked if he thinks the police department has been supportive, his reply is curt: "Personally, no." He also expresses little faith in the internal investigation that is examining the shooting. "My guess is that they're going to be cleared of this and nothing will happen," he postulates.

The modest event is an indication of a small groundswell of support for Ngo, primarily in the Asian community. A couple of weeks after the community college forum, he spoke at the annual dinner of the Council on Asian Pacific Minnesotans. He has also discussed his situation with Senator Mark Dayton. On June 7 a fundraiser will be held in Ngo's honor. The forum also highlights two concerns that have come to the fore in the wake of his shooting: the police department's treatment of Asian officers and its ability--or lack thereof--to investigate its own employees.

Ngo is a somewhat unlikely figure to become a symbolic spokesman for the Asian-American immigrant community. Despite being born in Vietnam, he betrays no unease or accent in speaking English. After growing up in south Minneapolis, his family moved to Plymouth prior to his ninth grade year. Ngo was a standout high school wrestler, despite only competing for one season. He was also a champion power lifter and tae kwon do connoisseur. Ngo enlisted in the Army while he was still in school and attended boot camp between his junior and senior years at Armstrong High School. "He was always a guy's guy," says his brother, Dean Ngo. "Growing up with the guy he just always liked playing with knives and guns."

Ilean Her, executive director of the Council on Asian Pacific Minnesotans, met Ngo after the shooting. "He's very earnest about what he does and very serious about it," she says. "He definitely has a passion for it."

Larry Reed, an attorney who has often represented plaintiffs suing the Minneapolis Police Department for civil rights violations, says that his judgment in dealing with Ngo was that he was a loyal cop. "He seemed to be, at least up until the shooting, one of the boys," assesses Reed. "Obviously they have abandoned him now that one of the boys shot him."

Ngo's case has raised concerns among many in the Asian community. "There are questions that haven't been answered about that night," Her notes. "What words were exchanged? Did Officer Ngo identify himself to the other officers? The community isn't anti-Storlie, but we just want to know what happened that night and I don't think we've gotten that answer yet."

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