Unfriendly Fire

Duy Ngo will receive $4.5 million for getting shot by a fellow officer in the line of duty, but that won't restore his reputation

On the surface there is scant evidence of the grievous wounds suffered by Duy Ngo. Seated at a table in the bowels of the Hennepin County Government Center, wearing a black polo shirt and khaki pants, he looks like just another bureaucrat on lunch break.

Even the Minneapolis police officer's left arm, which four years ago resembled a mound of raw meat, looks healed. More than two dozen surgeries—skin grafts, tendon transfers, ligament extensions, bone grafts—have worked wonders. Just a couple of long, jagged scars remain as immediate evidence that he was shot at least six times while working undercover gang surveillance in February 2003 ("Shot to Hell," 5/21/03).

But beneath the surgically altered surface, Ngo is a man still wrestling with demons. Migraine headaches hammer his brain. Nightmares continue to plague his sleep. He takes pills to dull the constant pain. He takes pills to quell his chronic gastrointestinal problems. He takes pills to help him sleep at night and pills to stem the vomiting. Three times a week he attends physical therapy. Once a week he sees a therapist.

More than two dozen surgeries—skin grafts, tendon transfers, ligament extensions,  and bone grafts—have worked wonders for Duy Ngo, who was shot at least six times
Michael Dvorak
More than two dozen surgeries—skin grafts, tendon transfers, ligament extensions, and bone grafts—have worked wonders for Duy Ngo, who was shot at least six times

"The physical pain, although at times intolerable, that's not the real pain," he says. "The real pain is the psychological and the emotional pain that I've suffered. The fear, the depression, the anxiety. All the negative emotions that come with abandonment, betrayal, and even persecution by certain people."

It should be a happy day for Ngo. After a four-year legal battle, the Minneapolis City Council approved, by an 11-1 margin, a record $4.5 million payout to settle his federal civil rights lawsuit. But the windfall can't give the 10-year MPD veteran back what he lost.

"It gives me a modicum of financial security," he says. "It ensures certain things will be taken care of, like my daughter's education. But the amount is totally irrelevant. I'd rather have my health and my body and my life back than trade it for any amount of money."

ON FEBRUARY 23, shortly after 2:00 a.m., Duy Ngo was working plainclothes surveillance. The gang investigator was parked in the alley on the 3500 block of Third and Clinton Avenues in an unmarked green Buick Century. He was wearing jeans, a bulletproof vest, a black sweatshirt, and a wig. Ngo was packing three guns: a pistol and two Beretta 9 mms. Earlier that night he'd called in his coordinates to dispatch so that other officers would know he was working in the area. Ngo was monitoring a residence that was suspected of being a gang-run drug operation.

The then-30-year-old officer was less than a week away from reporting for active duty as a medic with the Army reserves. There was a decent chance he'd be headed to Iraq or Afghanistan.

Around 2:15, a man approached his vehicle from the rear, Ngo recounts. The man wanted to know what Ngo was doing there. "Get the fuck out of here," Ngo responded. The man pulled a pistol. A struggle for the gun ensued. Ngo was shot once in chest, but his bulletproof vest stopped the bullet from piercing his skin. Four other bullets went through Ngo's car.

The assailant eventually bolted southward. Ngo pursued him on foot, firing off several rounds in the perpetrator's direction. But the blow to the chest had knocked the wind out of him. He radioed for backup. "Emergency, officer shot, 36th and Third," he told the dispatcher. All available squad cars were ordered to the scene.

Officers Charles "Chip" Storlie and Jamie Conway responded to the call. In a cruiser headed north on 35W at approximately 100 miles per hour with siren screaming, Storlie loaded an MP5 submachine gun.

When the officers arrived at the scene, Ngo was on his knees in the street waving his arms over his head. The pistol was in his right hand. He'd stripped the sweatshirt off his shoulder, displaying the vest emblazoned with the word, "Police." Ngo fell forward, dropping the pistol in the process.

Almost immediately after exiting the car, from a distance of roughly 12 feet, Storlie opened fire with the machine gun. At least six bullets riddled Ngo's body. All told, 15 entry and exit wounds were tallied.

Even as Ngo lay in critical condition in the hospital, rumors began circulating through the police department about what had transpired. The most galling and persistent tale was that he'd shot himself to avoid reporting for military duty.

The investigation into what exactly occurred on that night was a debacle from the outset. The crime scene wasn't properly secured. A thorough canvas of the neighborhood wasn't initially conducted. Evidence was lost or improperly handled. Of the four bullets that pierced Ngo's vehicle, only one was ever recovered. Storlie wasn't interviewed until eight days after the shooting.

Then-Lt. Mike Carlson laid out the investigation's shortcomings in a withering June 2003 memo: "Any defense attorney would be able to make the [Bureau of Investigations] as a whole look incompetent and disorganized," he concluded ("MPD Scandals, Continued: A Primer," 3/1/04).

Ngo felt betrayed by the department that he'd served for six years. Then-police chief Robert Olson never visited him in the hospital. Storlie was cleared of any wrongdoing after serving a standard three-day suspension. The Hennepin County Attorney's Office investigated the shooting, but declined to press criminal charges. Ngo's original assailant was never found. Four months after he was shot, Ngo sued the city and Storlie, seeking $22 million in damages.

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