Nearly six years after Minneapolis Police Offer Duy Ngo was shot and nearly killed in the line of duty as an undercover, plainclothes officer with the Minnesota Gang Strike Force, he has reached a settlement with the City of Minneapolis. The City Council voted Monday to approve a $4.5 million settlement over police misconduct and the inappropriate use of a semi-automatic weapon by a fellow police officer in February 2003.
The Settlement Agreement to be signed and its contents made public sometime during the week of December 10.
Duy Ngo met with press about an hour later at the office of his attorney, Robert Bennett, a managing partner at Flynn, Gaskins Bennett, LLP. He expressed relief that the legal battle was over and says this marks a point where the real healing begins.
“This was never about the money, it was about justice” said Ngo. “There is no amount of money that anyone could offer a person, or offer me, who has almost been killed, for the suffering, all of the pain over the past five years, the lost time, the toll it took on my family and anybody who has supported me all the way though.”
“I am picking up the pieces and moving on and can finally believe that I can put this behind me,” he added.
The City Council moved to a closed meeting to discuss the proposed settlement. They emerged about a half-hour later and Council President Barbara Johnson remarked that the settlement would recognize that that Ngo has sustained “life changing injuries,” and that it is the best way to close this unfortunate situation in recognition that police officers everyday, “place themselves in dangerous, complicated unpredictable situations, in which their lives are at risk. And they do that to protect and preserve our communities and preserve public safety – and sometimes those situations have tragic endings.”
Councilmember Ostrow moved the motion to approve and then added that the Council is sending the right message in “expressing compassion and care for Duy Ngo, who served our city and continues to serve our city in a very high-risk situation and show the kind of bravery and valor that our officer do, and his life has been profoundly changed by this awful, awful tragedy.
“In this circumstance, a clear majority of us feel that if any amount of money could, that amount of money is appropriate in terms of the life changing damages that Duy Ngo suffered,” said Ostrow.
The Council members voted 11 to 1 in favor. Robert Lilligren was absent and the ‘no’ vote came from Lisa Goodman, who chairs the Claims Committee. Her office declined to comment on the decision.
Mayor R.T. Rybak said the settlement would end a sad story that thankfully did not end in death.
“This is a staggering sum of money, and it does, I believe underscore how difficult and sometimes tragic police officers work who everyday put themselves on the line,” said Rybak. “They put themselves at great risk and sometimes we see unfortunately a great consequence for that. This recognizes that there was a tremendous consequence for an act of a person who was out there trying to protect the citizens of Minneapolis. And so we will stand with Duy Ngo in this matter.”
Ngo was shot in his unmarked Gang Strike Force vehicle by an unknown suspect while he was observing activity in the early morning hours. He was wearing a protective vest that took the brunt of the shot, and he pursued the would-be assailant until collapsing on the street from his injuries. MPD Officers Jamie Conway and Charles Storlie responded to the call and found Ngo on the ground under a lit streetlamp. Storlie shot Ngo with multiple bursts from an MP-5 machine gun, shattering his left forearm, leg and groin.
Mayor Rybak recalled getting the call at 3:00 a.m. that Officer Ngo had been shot. The Mayor spoke with Ngo’s family and reflected on what proud Americans they were and how proud they were of their son.
The Duy Ngo case is unprecedented for his not receiving honors and recognition due someone in his position. Why he has not received the City’s highest honors for surviving two deadly force encounters in the same evening is still a mum issue, reportedly because of the lawsuit. But that wasn’t filed until nearly four-months after the incident.
Ngo’s attorney, Robert Bennett, paid tribute to Ngo, for enduring injuries in the line of duty, then many surgeries and years of recovery, and also for the sense of alienation that he received from many in his own profession. Now, he added, Ngo can continue to work for the MPD and get on with his life.
“He had to undergo five-years of litigation and this is a sense of vindication and relief that this is now closed, and can get on with the rest of his life,” said Bennett, who congratulated the City Council for their courage to act responsibly when it might have been easier to say make a difficult and ongoing legal battle.
There was nothing leading up to this to signal that the city was ready to agree to the settlement. He was already at the point of jury selection until the call came through. He attributed it to the nearing of a court date, set for January 7, 2008, and felt that all parties involved began to get a sense of the “realities” of the injuries and long term effects, physical, psychological and emotional.
“This was the realization and recognition of that rather than some interdepartmental squabble,” he said.
The case took a turn in Ngo’s favor last summer after the U.S. Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit, denied the city’s motion for summary judgment on immunity – saying there was enough evidence available to support Ngo’s claim of excessive deadly force and police misconduct for inappropriate use of a semi-automatic weapon.
Ngo was able to prove that he did everything that an officer is trained to do as a plain clothes officer who is down and awaiting for backup to arrive.
“There were two police officers there that night,” said Ngo. “Both observed the situation and one decided on deadly force and the other did not.”
Ngo’s case brought to light some critical issues that are now undergoing policy review in the MPD. The length of time that a chief is debriefed is now set at before 48 hours. It had taken eight days for the detailed report to be reviewed by then Police Chief Robert Olson.
Bennett noted that the case also brought to light the number of plain clothes, undercover officers on duty in the Twin Cities at any one time. Since not all of them are local police, and include state and federal agencies, there is work underway to ensure that the coordination and procedures in deadly force encounters are standard.
“We were lucky that there hasn’t been more of these friendly fire incidents,” said Bennett.
In addition to the $4.5 from the city, the State of Minnesota also settled with Ngo for workers compensation for medical bills sustained from the injury.
The comments from the community include the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association – Minnesota Chapter President Sumbal Mahmud, who is also the Central Regional Governor, who said her members are pleased that this case is finally resolved.
“We thank the Minneapolis City Council for helping to bring this unfortunate situation to a close,” said Mahmud. “We hope that the settlement will begin the process of healing for everyone involved. Our hearts and prayers remain with Office Duy Ngo and his family.”
John Q. Doàn, the Vietnamese member of the State Council on Asian Pacific Minnesotans, met with Duy Ngo and his family many times over the years, especially those excruciating first months when the weight of opinion from the city was against Ngo.
“What happened to Officer Ngo in the line of duty was tragic,” said Doàn. “No amount of money can replace the physical and emotional wounds that he and his family have suffered.
“This settlement is a sign that a modicum of justice has been served and brings a measure of closure for Duy and his family,” he added. “Officer Ngo is a hero and patriot, and the Vietnamese-American community is proud of his service.”
“I am glad to hear of Police Officer Duy Ngo’ s victory; the man risked his life to protect our safety and did everything he could for our community,” said Yen Van Pham, executive director, Vietnamese Social Services of Minnesota.
Ngo was also a medic in the U.S. Army Reserve and had been scheduled to serve in the Middle East at the time of the incident. After completing his studies in nursing, Ngo anticipated serving as an officer. Instead, he received a Medical Discharge from the U.S. Army in December 2005.
Ngo’s daughter, now six, was just 14 months when it happened. She has had to deal with too much at such a tender age, he said.
In February 2004, then incoming Chief of Police William P. McManus brought Duy Ngo together with Mayor R.T. Ryabak at City Hall, to publicly dismiss the rumors and innuendo surrounding Ngo, that served to divide the force, hamper the investigation.
It took an entire year for the MPD or the City to speak publicly on the Ngo case, other than addressing his health and family about the shooting. He received an apology from McManus and returned to work part time the following week.
Prior to taking office Chief McManus took an interest in the Duy Ngo case while reviewing departmental archives. He studied the forensic reports and began questioning the investigators.
“It amazed me there was a rumor that the wounds were self-inflicted, and this persists today,” said Chief McManus in 2004. “…Officer Ngo did not shoot himself and I am here to dispel those rumors and apologize to Duy, clear his name, and to welcome him back to the Police Department.”
Another rumor that Ngo had arranged for himself to be wounded to avoid deployment with his Army Reserve unit to Afghanistan was called “absolutely absurd.”
“This is a dangerous profession,” he added “Anyone of us could be Duy Ngo an hour from now.”
No one could say where the rumors originated or why they persisted for an entire year before being addressed. McManus then ordered the long-delayed Internal Investigation on the Duy Ngo incident completed.
McManus has since gone to become chief of police in Detroit.
Ngo appeared at a number of community functions in 2004 and 2005, including a June 2005 fundraiser at Minneapolis Technical College (MTC) to support the family.
Then St. Paul Mayor Randy Kelly presented Ngo with a plaque for his brave service on behalf of the State of Minnesota.
At the time, Ngo said that, “I have had incredible support and couldn’t ask for a better group of friends. They picked up where the police department left off. For no other reason than altruistic motives they wanted to do the right thing and to see that justice is done. They spent their own time, energy, finances in the effort.
“Everything was handled out of the kindness of their hearts and with no expectation of anything in return or payback,” he added. “They wanted to see someone held responsible for it and now it is coming full circle. This whole thing is much bigger than me. Long after this is over they will continue to forge on, fighting the good fight and seeing to it that people do not abuse their power.”
Ngo will undergo more surgeries in addition to the hundreds of hours of physical therapy just to get some use back in his left arm that was shot away. The physical injuries are permanent, and though Ngo returned to the Gang Strike Force on March 15, 2004, he is no longer a patrol or undercover officer.