By Jake Rossen
By Jesse Marx
By Michelle LeBow
By Alleen Brown
By Maggie LaMaack
By CP Staff
By Jesse Marx
It is not the first time that the Minneapolis Police Department's treatment of an Asian-American officer has been criticized. "They're good at hiring, to be honest with you, but the atmosphere is so oppressive that [Asian-Americans] leave," Her says.
Perhaps the most prominent example of discontent among Asian police officers on the MPD is that of Frank Nelson. Nelson's troubles began when he tried to start an Asian police officers' association, similar to other groups representing blacks and Hispanics. Soon afterward Nelson began receiving harassing phone calls, and the tires on his car were slashed. He also claimed to have received a threatening letter, and to have found a bullet taped to his mailbox. An internal police investigation, however, concluded that Nelson had written the threatening note himself and that he'd lied to officers during the inquiry. He was then terminated.
After battling the department in the courts for four years, Nelson was finally reinstated to his post with back pay in February of last year. Marshall Tanick, Nelson's lawyer, says that his client has continued to suffer retaliation since returning to work. "He's still the subject of some harassment and discrimination, and I think he's trying to keep a low profile these days," says Tanick.
Moreover, Tanick claims the mistreatment of Asian officers isn't limited to this isolated case. "I have found that there tends to be an old boy and old girl network, and the Asian officers have not penetrated the club," he states. "My experience in representing Asian-American officers has left me with the belief that they're not getting a fair shake generally."
Steve Young, a lawyer and former dean of Hamline Law School, arranged to meet with Ngo after hearing concerns voiced about the incident by Vietnamese acquaintances. He too fears that the officer is being abandoned. "When bureaucracies behave this way, experience over the decades has shown that they don't want to face up to a harsh truth," argues Young. "They're ducking something."
Ngo himself doesn't want to make race an issue. He refuses to believe that it could be a factor in why he was shot or the subsequent response from the police department and the media. But he has his own concerns about the way the investigation is being carried out. Rather than farm the inquiry out to a neighboring police department, the Minneapolis homicide unit is conducting the investigation.
Ngo is not alone in being troubled by this incestuous relationship. "What do they say? It's like the fox guarding the henhouse," notes Larry Reed. "They're investigating themselves is what's happening. It would seem to be a clear conflict."
Steve Simon, a clinical law professor at the University of Minnesota, shares this assessment. He says that even if Minneapolis cops are capable of fairly investigating their fellow officers, such cases should be handled by an outside agency to avoid the possible perception of bias.
Deputy Chief Lucy Gerold maintains that the police department is perfectly capable of investigating its own officers. She says that outside law enforcement agencies are only brought in when an officer is involved in a fatality. "We have the best, most experienced investigators, so I don't see a problem with them investigating this case at all," she says.
Mary Soto-Ngo had a premonition that something might be wrong on the night that her husband was shot. She had tried to reach him at two different cell phone numbers, but there was no answer at either one. It was well after midnight and the couple's then-14-month-old daughter was fast asleep. Rather than fret about her husband's well-being, Soto-Ngo decided to try and get some shut-eye herself. "I literally had one foot in the bed when the doorbell rang," she recalls.
As Soto-Ngo approached the front door, she could see a squad car through the blinds and knew that something was wrong. "Even before I opened the door my heart was racing," she recalls. "My whole body was shaking when they gave me the news."
The two officers at the door informed her that her husband had been shot. Soto-Ngo's first instinct was to go and hold her daughter. One of the officers stayed behind with the baby. Soto-Ngo was ferried to Hennepin County Medical Center. "I still didn't know the extent of his injuries," she says of arriving at the hospital. "I didn't know how many times he had been shot."
Soto-Ngo is reluctant to share her story. Seated at the kitchen table of the couple's modest, cozy, brick and stucco home just north of Minneapolis, she echoes her husband's opinion that the media has not treated them well. Shortly after the shooting, she was talking on the phone on the back deck when she noticed a Star Tribune reporter peering through the fence at her. "We're very private people," she says.
Asked how the shooting has changed their lives, Soto-Ngo walks over to a hutch in the living room and opens the doors. It's stuffed with bandages, gauze, tape, and other medical supplies. "But wait, that's not all," she says, walking over to a closet to display more of the pharmaceutical goods that have become a staple of everyday life. Soto-Ngo quit her job at United Hospital so that she could devote her time to raising their daughter. Now she must look after her husband as well. "I'm exhausted all the time," she sighs. "I don't sleep very well. I haven't slept very well since the night this happened."