Fong Lee's family claims police had recovered the same gun in a burglary years before.
Nearly three years ago, a rookie Minneapolis police officer shot and killed 19-year-old Fong Lee during a chase on an elementary school playground. A grand jury cleared the officer of any criminal wrongdoing and the Police Department's internal investigation found he didn't violate any procedures.
The officer, Jason Andersen, claimed Lee had a gun, although he said he never directly pointed it at him. The gun, a Russian-made Baikal .380, was found 2 feet from Lee's body after he was shot nine times.
But new evidence filed Monday in a lawsuit brought by Lee's family against Andersen and the city of Minneapolis suggests that the gun had been in police possession, not Lee's, for nearly two years before the shooting. A Police Department report provided to Judge Paul Magnuson showed the gun found near Lee's body was the same gun recovered from a burglary in north Minneapolis in 2004, inventoried and kept in the department's property room since the burglary.
In alleging the gun was planted, the filing says that when the Police Department discovered the origin of the gun, it issued a new supplemental report "trying to intimate" the gun recovered in 2004 and registered to the person who was burglarized might now not be the same gun. In 2004, police ran the gun's serial number and verified it belonged to the burglary victim, but never returned it to him, according to the document filed Monday.
In a joint statement, counsel for Lee's family, Richard Hechter and Michael Padden, said, "considering the evidence that has been discovered to date, these facts are not surprising at all.'' The lawsuit is scheduled for trial in May.
Sgt. Jesse Garcia, spokesman for the Police Department, said, "Lawsuits like this take away from the fact that officer Andersen used good tactics and excellent officer survival skills to prevent the loss of his or his partner's life."
"This is yet another unfortunate example of what happens when people confront an officer with deadly force and an officer is forced to take action," he said.
Lee's death on July 22, 2006, triggered protests by the Hmong community. Police alleged that Lee was with a group of people exchanging drugs outside Cityview Elementary School in north Minneapolis. Andersen and state trooper Craig Benz drove up to the scene and gave chase, both saying they saw a gun in Lee's hand.
In his statement to police, Andersen said he yelled at Lee several times to put down the gun before he was shot. An outdoor security camera at the school caught much of the chase, but not the shooting.
The suit alleges that all witness accounts and the videotape prove Lee was never a threat to Andersen. Lee and his friends biked to the playground after a family barbecue. Several witnesses said they didn't see the group doing anything suspicious.
In Andersen's deposition for the suit, he said he told Benz, "We're just going to drive behind these guys and see what happens." Benz said he didn't recall seeing any illegal activity. Their squad hit the back of Lee's bicycle and he fled.
Andersen said Lee had a gun in his right hand. A video expert reviewed the tape and determined Lee never had a gun in his right hand during the chase. The gun found near Lee's body was several feet from his left hand. An expert for the city analyzed the gun and found no finger or palm prints, oils, DNA, fibers or any other trace element that could be linked to Lee. There were no bullets in the chamber, the suit said.
None of the friends who were with Lee at the school the day he was shot or any neighbors who witnessed the shooting were interviewed by the city for its internal investigation, the suit said.
The court filing also raised a concern that the police officer involved in the 2004 burglary investigation was the first officer on the scene of Lee's shooting.
In his deposition, Andersen said he first shot at Lee when he began to pivot. A few seconds later he shot again, hitting Lee at least three times. Now on his back, Andersen said, he shot Lee five more times because he saw Lee move with the gun in his right hand.
Attorney Fred Bruno, who represented Andersen during the criminal investigation, said the shooting was thoroughly investigated and there was never a mention of a gun being planted.
"This is a figment of somebody's greedy imagination," he said.
David Chanen • 612-673-4465