MPD Scandals, Continued: A Primer

The Duy Ngo case: McManus bets the farm; Will Olson land on the hot seat?

By Steve Perry, G.R. Anderson Jr., and Paul Demko

POSTED 3/1/04 3:15 PM (CST)

Last Wednesday marked the one-year anniversary of Officer Duy Ngo's shooting by a fellow Minneapolis cop--and brought fresh intimations of Minneapolis Police Department scandal involving the case. Here's a summary of what we know about five key questions in the story.

 

What's the backstory?

In the early morning hours of February 25, 2003, Officer Duy Ngo was working an undercover drug stakeout in south Minneapolis's Central neighborhood. According to Ngo, a man approached his unmarked car shortly after 2:00 a.m. and shot him once in the chest. The bullet did not pierce Ngo's bulletproof vest, however, and after a brief struggle Ngo chased the man for a short distance and fired shots at him before collapsing to regain his breath after the slug to the chest. He radioed in that an officer was down.

The first cops to arrive at the scene were Jamie Conway and Charles Storlie. Spotting an armed figure on his hands and knees in the alley, Storlie opened fire on Ngo with an MP-5 machine gun, hitting him at least six times. (Ngo believes he was struck by eight bullets.) Storlie later stated that he mistook Ngo for a suspect.

As the Star Tribune noted in a February 22, 2004 story about the incident, the shooting appeared to have involved two irregularities on Storlie's part: taking the machine gun from his trunk without notifying the MPD's Command Center and failing to make note of a radio dispatch that other cops on duty that night say they heard, indicating that a plainclothes officer was working surveillance in the vicinity.

After three months of recovery and physical rehab, Ngo went public with his story in a May interview with City Pages' Paul Demko ("Shot to Hell," 5/21/03). He was bitter about not only the circumstances of the shooting but also the reaction of the MPD afterward. Ngo pointed out that police representatives released his photo to the media the next day, effectively ending his undercover career--and apparently violating a Minnesota law that forbids the public release of cops' personnel photos without their permission. The MPD did not, however, release a photo of Storlie, the officer who shot him.

Ngo was also outraged at the lack of response from MPD brass: "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 told CP. To make matters worse, a rumor began circulating among cops (eventually finding its way onto a Fox 9 TV news report) that Ngo had inflicted the first wound upon himself in order to avoid pending military duty. Less than a month after the City Pages interview appeared, Ngo filed a civil lawsuit against the city, Storlie, and two unnamed MPD supervisors.

And there matters remained until last Wednesday. That afternoon, MPD chief Bill McManus, just nine days into his tenure, convened a press conference to deny the rumor and--if only by implication--to rebuke department brass, who were compelled to attend, for letting it go unanswered.

A day later, Caroline Lowe of WCCO-TV broke a new development in the case: Deputy Chief Lucy Gerold and two other MPD managers--Captain Mike Martin, who oversees the entire Criminal Investigation Division, and homicide unit commander Lieutenant Mike Carlson--had been suspended from duty with pay after Martin and Carlson had approached McManus with information about an allegedly suppressed internal memo in the Ngo shooting investigation. The next morning, on Friday, Gerold issued a statement saying she was "stunned" at her suspension and had done nothing improper. She wrote that the memo in question had been given to then-Chief Robert Olson.

 

Why were Gerold, Martin, and Carlson suspended?

Procedurally, it was a cut-and-dried matter. The memo under investigation was written by Carlson and addressed to Martin and Gerold. Officers who may be implicated in a pending investigation are routinely suspended, not only in Minneapolis but in most departments. Many are eventually restored to active duty with no imputation of wrongdoing. Politically, the move is far more complicated, owing to McManus's short time as chief and the high profile and positive reputations of the cops involved. See question five, "What if no wrongdoing is found?"

 

What's in the memo?

According to a summary of its contents published in the March 1 Strib, Carlson's memo--prepared in June 2003, a week after Ngo filed suit against the city--describes an investigation defined largely by things that were done wrong and things that were not done at all. Among the apparent flaws: failing to properly secure the scene after the shootings and to collect all the available physical evidence, neglecting to canvass the area thoroughly for witnesses, mishandling Ngo's bulletproof vest and its contents, and losing physical evidence. The report also seems remarkable for the relative degree of scrutiny cast toward Ngo and Storlie respectively. Its final section lists 14 questions that should have been posed to Ngo after the shooting, but the memo has far less to say in its analysis of Storlie's actions.

For purposes of the current Bureau of Criminal Apprehension investigation requested by McManus, the only question is whether the document was improperly suppressed. But now that it's come to light, it may also bear major liability implications for the city in Ngo's lawsuit, due not only to its characterization of internal shortcomings in working the case, but also the city's failure to produce it for Ngo's attorney, Robert Bennett, in the course of discovery proceedings.

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