The vehicular homicide trial of an administrative employee assigned to the Minneapolis Police Department is reviving criticism about why she was allowed to continue working after being charged with causing a fatal crash two years ago.
The trial of Destiny Xiong, a human resources generalist, began Thursday in the Ramsey County courtroom of District Judge David Higgs and continued into Monday.
On Tuesday, both sides are expected to present final arguments.
Xiong, 36, of Hudson, Wis., faces felony charges of criminal vehicular homicide and criminal vehicular operation stemming from a May 1, 2016, crash on Interstate 35W in New Brighton. She was reaching for her cellphone when her car slammed into a car carrying Brea Miller, 31, of St. Paul, and her fiancé, Michael Bain, according to charging documents. Miller died three days later of injuries from the crash, authorities said.
The looming criminal case remains a source of consternation among some Minneapolis police officials, who question why Xiong was allowed to remain in her post while a police officer would likely have been placed on administrative leave.
Lt. Bob Kroll, head of the union that represents the city’s rank-and-file officers, said a double standard is at play.
“What bothers me is that she’s facing serious felony charges resulting in someone’s death,” he said on Monday. “If that was a police officer we know all too well that he’d be on home assignment.”
The matter was complicated by Xiong’s access to “all sensitive information about police officers,” Kroll said.
Earl Gray, a St. Paul-based attorney who is representing Xiong, disagreed with the comparison and argued that his client had a right to the same presumption of innocence as anyone else.
“She’s not out there patrolling the streets,” he said. “She works in an office for God’s sakes.”
A message left through a spokesman for Xiong’s supervisor at the Human Resources Department wasn’t immediately returned Monday. The Police Department also declined to comment.
Mistake or negligence?
A jury will decide whether the crash was a careless mistake, as Xiong’s lawyer has argued, or the result of gross negligence.
Prosecutors say Xiong had been driving north on the interstate to pick up her children when she received a text message from her daughter. After accidentally dropping her phone, she was reaching down to pick it up when she slammed into the back of the couple’s Honda Fit, one of several vehicles stopped in a construction zone just north of County Road D, according to court records. The impact caused their car to hit a minivan in front of them, which in turn struck an SUV. By coincidence, court records show, the SUV was carrying another MPD civilian employee, who works in the department’s Records Unit.
Xiong, who called 911 from the scene, later told police she didn’t remember whether she hit the brakes before the crash. A crash reconstruction specialist with the State Patrol concluded that she was traveling from 68 to 80 miles an hour in a 60-mph zone. An expert hired by the defense estimated her speed at between 51 and 65 mph.
Xiong has pleaded not guilty to both charges.
Among her duties as a generalist, Xiong oversaw the department’s human resources selection process for both sworn and civilian candidates. She also served on the city’s Transgender Equity Council.