One year after Minneapolis police officers killed an armed man during a wild shootout in a North Side neighborhood, prosecutors said Monday that they would not file criminal charges against the officers who shot Chiasher Vue.
Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said that a monthslong review of the available evidence concluded that no charges were warranted against the eight officers who fired their service weapons at Vue, 52, who was armed with a rifle.
Authorities have not established if Vue or the officers fired first, Freeman said.
In a statement released by his office, Freeman called the December 2019 incident "another tragedy in our community" and extended his condolences to Vue's family, but said that ultimately the officers' actions were not criminal.
Freeman said the officers on the scene took several steps to try to avoid the outcome. They brought in Hmong-speaking officers to talk to Vue on the phone and face to face and used a nonlethal round initially in an effort to subdue Vue, he said.
"But ultimately, Chiasher Vue rejected the offers made to him and began firing his rifle, endangering the lives of the officers and nearby residents," Freeman said. "Under the totality of the circumstances, the use of deadly force by the officers was necessary, proportional to the threat and objectively reasonable."
Ballistics testing determined that Vue fired his weapon — later identified as a Romanian-made rifle — six times from his porch and outside the home. Seven officers — Sgt. Troy Carlson and officers Donnell Crayton, Kyle Pond, Aaron Womble, Toua Yang, Jason Wolff and Daniel Ledman — fired a total of 59 shots. Thirteen of those rounds struck Vue, who died later at a nearby hospital.
Another officer, Andrew Reed, fired a nonlethal device that initially knocked Vue down.
Although Vue's relatives have argued that police could have done more to try to de-escalate the confrontation before unleashing a fusillade of bullets at the house, prosecutors determined that the officers were within the bounds of the law.
They said that officers reasonably believed that Vue would shoot them and thus were entitled to use deadly force to stop him after he ignored their repeated commands to drop his rifle and allegedly pointed the weapon at them as if to shoot.
"This was an extremely dangerous situation before police even arrived, and Mr. Vue's refusal to come out unarmed escalated the situation and clearly communicated his unwillingness to surrender," prosecutors said.
Police spokesman John Elder declined to comment on Monday's announcement but confirmed that the officers were all cleared to return to work following a preliminary internal investigation; eight of the nine have done so, while one officer is out on temporary leave, Elder said. A more intensive probe looking at whether any of the officers violated department rules on the use of force will now begin, according to Elder.
"This will take some time, but obviously it's a priority for this department," he said.
The decision comes as the Police Department finds itself under intense scrutiny following the May 25 killing of George Floyd in south Minneapolis and the widespread protests that followed.
And yet, news of the announcement was met with relative quiet on Monday, in stark contrast to other recent charging decisions by Freeman's office.
Dave Bicking, a longtime police observer, said that he wasn't surprised by the announcement.
"It fits a pattern that the county attorney is going to justify the actions of the police unless it's absolutely impossible for him to not do so."
Bicking said there was a sense of faint optimism among activists that the prosecutions of officers in the killings of Philando Castile and Justine Damond Ruszczyk, the first two such cases in recent state history, would prompt prosecutors to take a harder look at officers who shoot civilians on duty. But, he said, not much has changed.
"I don't think we had a lot of hope that there would suddenly be more charges coming," said Bicking, whose group Communities United Against Police Brutality sued for access to records related to the Vue case. "The Damond case was just such an unusual case ... and of course the racial dynamics that entered into that made a lot of people feel it was a one-off deal."
As in the Damond case, the investigation wasn't without behind-the-scenes squabbling between MPD and the County Attorney's Office. Prosecutors accused the department of failing to turn over complete and unredacted training records to the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, the chief investigating agency. The department only turned the records over on June 18 — six months after the incident — and only after a grand jury issued a subpoena ordering them to do so.
The Vue shooting unfolded on the night of Dec. 15, 2019, when officers were called to the family's home in the 3100 block of N. Thomas Avenue on a report of a domestic disturbance. While en route, they learned that a man, later identified as Vue, had been drinking and had fired several shots inside the home, prompting other family members to flee. A toxicology report determined his blood alcohol level was 0.20.
After arriving at the scene, police summoned a Hmong interpreter, who tried to talk Vue into surrendering. Vue initially agreed, telling officers he would come outside with his hands up, but when he came to the door, he suddenly turned and went back inside.
He reemerged seconds later, holding a rifle with the barrel pointed downward. At some point, he raised it in the direction of officers, and gunfire erupted.
Vue fell to the ground after being struck but then sat back up suddenly and raised the rifle a second time, prosecutors said, and officers fired a second volley.
A message left with a spokesperson for Vue's family was not immediately returned Monday.
Libor Jany • 612-673-4064
Chao Xiong • 612-270-4708