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home : community : community Thursday, March 26, 2015

6/4/2009 Email this articlePrint this article 
Police Officers Found Not Guilty in the Shooting of Fong Lee

By Elizabeth Thao

Fong Lee's mother Youa Lee Vang, holds a sign at the rally for Truth and Justice held on Saturday, May 30th at the Hmong Minnesota Professionals building on the corner of University Ave. and Marion St. in St. Paul, Minnesota. (Cheu Lee / HMONG TIMES)
Fong Lee's family outside the Federal Courthouse in St. Paul, Minnesota. (Cheu Lee / HMONG TIMES)
On Thursday, May 28, 2009, the verdict was given in regards to the case of the Minneapolis police officer Jason Andersen, who was responsible for shooting Fong Lee, 19, eight times, resulting in his death. The case claimed the attack was a clear case of excessive force used by the police. However, it was determined on this day, after a deliberation of six hours, that officer Andersen was to be cleared of all charges.

The shooting came about on July 22, 2006 when Andersen and his partner, State Patrol Trooper Craig Benz, observed Fong Lee and four of his friends biking near Cityview Performing Arts Magnet elementary school. With the intention of "making citizen contact" with the group, the two officers approached when they allegedly saw a member of the group hand a gun to Fong Lee. At this point both officers involved themselves in a chase after Lee, drawing their guns. When Lee was turning a corner during the chase, Officer Andersen claimed that Lee had a gun in his right hand and raised his arm up. It was then that the officer took his first shot at Lee, which missed.

However, when Lee turned a second corner in his attempt to get away, Andersen took this opportunity to shoot Lee again. This time, he hit Lee three times in the back.

At this point in time, Andersen ordered Lee to drop his weapon. Lee, who was on the ground, then raised his right arm. It was an action that resulted in officer Andersen shooting Lee five more times, killing him. The incident was later described as a situation in which Andersen testified that he felt "at that point my life was in jeopardy." Although Lee had never pointed the gun at him, he considered him to be a threat. Legal precedent claims that if there is a threat, the use of deadly force is justified.

This has caused much consternation within the Hmong community. It is one of many incidents that has caused the rift in the relationship between the police and community to become even bigger. Lawyers for the Lee family continued to defend Lee, claiming that he was unarmed throughout the whole chase and that the gun that was found near his body was planted. This fact was supported by the evidence that none of Lee's fingerprints were found on the gun, nor were any smudges or any of Lee's blood or sweat.

Another major piece of evidence used in the trial was a shot off of a surveillance camera from the school grounds, which did not depict the shooting itself, but a scene in which both Lee and Andersen can both be seen. The picture, which was clarified, still did not clearly show that Lee had been in possession of a handgun.

Lawyers had presented their last arguments on Wednesday morning and the jury deliberated that afternoon. On the morning of Thursday, the 28th, the jury had their answer and Andersen was exonerated. This was the fourth official ruling clearing Andersen, including a hearing in 2007, where Hennepin County's grand jury cleared Andersen of any wrong doing in the case. They later awarded him a Medal of Valor, one of the highest honors for bravery, for his actions in the shooting.

When the verdict was read, Lee's family was alarmed and angered that it was read without them or their lawyers present. Lee's family learned of the verdict from reporters. "Our quest for truth does not end today. We will continue to seek answers," stated Lee's older sister, Shoua Lee.

The outcome of the verdict has since caused an uproar within the Hmong community, sparking a rally on Saturday, May 30th, 2009. On the corner of Marion Street and University Avenue, over 200 people marched in protest to the verdict and also for what they claimed was an unfair trial. They claimed the judge added insult to injury by reading the verdict without waiting for Fong Lee's parents, siblings or family, who had sat throughout the week-long trial, to return from lunch. Activists, Hmong community members, Fong Lee's supporters, family, and friends were all in attendance. Signs were abundant, many of them stating monikers such as, "If we can't trust the cops, who can we trust?" and "Me = Fong Lee."

Tou Ger Xiong, a member of the Coalition for Community Relations, called the verdict, "beyond disappointment and beyond disbelief." He commented upon the lack of diversity on the jury as well. Although the jury pool contained many members of racial minorities, the final twelve that were chosen were eight men and four women, all Caucasian. Xiong hopes there will be a continued federal and independent investigation.

"The message here is: watch out. If a cop thinks you pose a threat, you will be shot and you will be killed," said Xiong, "We are angry. We feel belittled. We feel betrayed."

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