Hennepin County is investigating the death of a St. Paul man who hit his head on the ground after Brooklyn Center police used a Taser on him.
The incident comes as police tactics across the nation face heightened scrutiny following the officer-involved deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and Eric Garner in New York City.
Officers of the Brooklyn Center Police Department were sent to the 5800 block of Xerxes Avenue N. shortly after 9 p.m. on Jan. 16 after multiple calls were made about a group fighting in an auto body parking lot near a Pizza Hut, possibly with weapons.
According to police, officers saw several people in front of a business. Among them was Sinthanouxay Khottavongsa, 57, who was “holding a crowbar in a threatening manner,” police said. Officers told Khottavongsa repeatedly to drop the crowbar before using a Taser on him.
Khottavongsa then fell to the ground and struck his head. He was transported to North Memorial Medical Center and died two days later from what was described by the county medical examiner's office as “complications of blunt force head injury.”
Police and the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office would not comment further on the incident, citing the active investigation. An incident report was not available.
The mayors of both Minneapolis and St. Paul have taken public steps to address the smoldering issue of police-civilian relations.
St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman recently agreed to ask outside auditors to review the police-civilian board, which investigates citizen complaints against officers.
That move was prompted by an incident last year in St. Paul involving police use of a stun gun that was caught on video and made national news. Three officers used a Taser on Chris Lollie after they confronted him sitting in a skyway lounge before picking up his kids at day care. Lollie agreed to leave the lounge, but was followed by officers. The altercation ended in his arrest. Charges against Lollie were dropped and the officers exonerated of improper conduct.
Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges has been vocally supportive of the police chief’s efforts to monitor police behavior with the use of officer body cameras.
According to KMSP-TV news reports, Khottavongsa was a father of three children and was active in his community as a volunteer and handyman. Originally from Laos, he came to the U.S. in the 1970s, arriving first in Texas where he gained his citizenship before relocating to Minnesota. His family said Khottavongsa was at the auto body shop helping a friend do some repair work at the time of the incident.
Public records indicate he was married to Khamla Khottavongsa, 57. His family declined to comment Saturday, but a gofundme.com page set up to raise money for funeral costs describes Khottavongsa as “a compassionate and generous person.”
The website continues, “Those who knew him best also remember him as a selfless, caring, and loving individual. He was always willing to lend a helping hand. He worked very hard to help and serve not only his family, but whomever came into his life.”