COON RAPIDS, Minn. (WCCO) — It was dark in the Coon Rapids backyard last Sunday morning when a neighbor called police to report a suspected burglary in progress.
When police officers arrived they noticed a person turned off a flashlight, then quietly slipped into a backyard shed.
Officers say they made repeated attempts to order the person out, even contemplated using pepper spray. But those commands went unanswered.
“We are conducting a thorough investigation into this incident. We encourage the city and the police department to abandon its hubris and to do the same,” attorney Benjamin Gallagher said.
Gallagher is representing 81-year-old Choua Xiong, who doesn’t speak English.
When officers feared the person inside the shed could be armed they deployed a police K-9, who ran into the shed and immediately latched onto Xiong’s arm.
At Friday’s rally outside Coon Rapids City Hall, Xiong’s grandson told the 200 people in attendance that police overreacted.
Others in the crowd suggested a case of cultural insensitivity.
“We want changes so every persons of different skin color can be treated with equality,” Wa Houa Ve, with the Hmong 18 Clan Council, said.
Hmong-American groups are demanding an outside investigation into police procedures and expanded cultural training for police officers.
“You ought to be screaming I’m sorry, taking cards, flowers, balloons, candy, all kinds of stuff to that woman in the hospital,” explained John Thompson with St. Paul Black Lives Matter.
Coon Rapids police acknowledge that mistakes were made but say the officers used risk analysis protocols before deciding to send the dog in.
“A female voice would have completely changed the way they were thinking. I guarantee it would have altered the tactics,” Chief Brad Wise said.
Chief Wise says the language barrier was part of the problem and adds that officers could hear no sounds coming from the shed. They thought all along the suspected burglar was a man.
But more importantly, Wise wants to quell the rumors circulating about the incident. He adds that his K-9 officer immediately went to the hospital, and with a translator, apologized to Xiong.
“He said please tell Ms. Xiong I’m sorry — that happened within an hour of this incident taking place,” Wise said.
The chief said he twice contacted Xiong’s grandson in an attempt to apologize to him as well.
Some allege that Xiong was dragged by officers across her backyard to the squad car in a humiliating manner.
Chief Wise vehemently denies that charge, adding that squad camera video clearly shows that the 81-year-old grandmother is shown being helped by two officers in a very careful manner.