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Finding Justice For Fong Lee

Hmong Today, News feature, Youa Vang Lee Posted: Apr 29, 2009

The tears have never stopped for Youa Vang Lee.

As the rest of the world watches recently released videos of her son Fong Lee being chased by police, there is growing doubt whether a gun is in the teens hand as initially claimed by the police. Many question if Fong deserved to be shot 8 times to his death by the police officer whose story continues to be filled with perplexing holes. These videos are at the middle of rumblings in the local media and among community groups charging the possibility of a police conspiracy involving a drop gun, cover-ups and corruption.

However, when Youa Vang Lee watches these videos, she is filled with strong maternal sentiments. Her heart aches when she sees the last few seconds of her sons precious life flashing before her eyes. She is filled with emptiness when she sees the fuzzy last images of the boy who will never get to care for the nieces and nephews that he loved and adored. And tears continue to swell in her eyes when she is reminded of that last day when she saw her baby boy riding off on his bicycle to play with his friends on that warm summer day, never to return.

Even though three years have passed since Fong was killed by Minneapolis Police Officer Jason Andersen, the pain has not subsided for Youa Vang Lee. Her pain and anguish has been compounded by the mounds of evidence recently released to the public which seemingly substantiates Fongs innocence on the evening of his death.

She, along with all who loved Fong, have maintained his innocence from the beginning of this ordeal and are now finding some solace from the community spirit that has embraced their belief that justice has not been served in the case of Fong Lees murder.

Until justice is served, this loving, devoted mother does not stop crying.

The recent media interest in the Lee familys lawsuit against Officer Andersen and the city of Minneapolis has brought to the surface a list of compelling questions as to what actually happened on this fateful July day.

It isnt so much what the family is trying to claim in this case, states Mike Padden, an attorney working with the Lee family. We just follow where the evidence leads us and what weve uncovered is quite alarming. The facts in this case speak for themselves.

In terms of the weather, nobody disputes that July 22, 2006 was a fairly warm, dry summer day. It was the perfect weather to go on a bike ride with friends.

Beyond the weather, however, there seems to be little else to agree on.

Statements given by Minneapolis Police Officer Jason Andersen and Minnesota State Trooper Craig Benz, partners for the first time that evening through a collaboration between Minneapolis Police and the Minnesota State Patrol, place the two law enforcement officers inside Officer Andersens marked squad car as the two approached a group of Asian males casually riding their bikes towards the Cityview Elementary School in North Minneapolis.

Both officers stated there was nothing about the group that was cause for alarm. Yet, in a sworn deposition filed with the courts, Officer Andersen specifically told his partner, Were just going to drive behind these guys and see what happens.

Trooper Benzs statements corroborate the notion that the boys on their bikes were doing nothing wrong. In his deposition, he even indicated that he did not even see any of the young men spit.

Suddenly, as the patrol car approaches the group, the officers say they saw two of the bicyclers separate from the group as they exchanged something suspicious while still on their bikes.

I immediately advised Trooper Benz, who was in the passenger seat, that the individual had a gun, Officer Andersen stated to investigators. The male on the right split off, and as I continued to follow the male with the gun, I activated my red lights and siren.

Officer Andersen continues that the bicycler who had the gun dumped his bike and fled northbound on foot towards Cityview Elementary School with the gun in his hand.

Trooper Benz also recalls that the boy who was wearing a red baseball cap and baggy shorts dumped his bike and fled on foot.
All eyewitness of this event, however, tell a different story on how the squad car approached the group.

Independent eye witnesses interviewed at different times all say that the squad car sped up behind the bicyclers and eventually bumped into the bicycler later identified as Fong Lee, knocking him down to the ground.

In 2006, this reporter interviewed at least three different eye witnesses including 17-year-old Pang Vang who observed the incident from her backyard.

It was like they were trying to kill him while he was on his bike, Vang proclaimed at the time.

Attorneys for the Lee family subsequently interviewed four independent eyewitnesses, two of whom were part of the bicycle group, who all saw the squad car speed up to hit Fong Lees bike.

Its no wonder, therefore, that this kid would be startled enough to run from the cops after getting knocked off his bike, explains attorney Mike Padden. Its hard to say what anybody else would do in this situation.

Up to this point, there are three main concerns brought up by the family and their attorneys as indicated in their court filings:

First and foremost, attorneys point out that in regards to the Constitutional Rights of the bicyclers, Neither Defendant Andersen nor Craig Benz could articulate any objective suspicion (reason) for catching up to and driving behind the Hmong men.

Secondly, both officers claimed that they turned on the squads lights and sirens before they sped up and approached Fong Lee. The onboard video recording device that is designed to automatically turn on when the siren has been engaged should have caught some video of this. Yet, according to documents filed by investigators, it wasnt until ten days later on August 1st when police finally recovered the video from Officer Andersens squad. Furthermore, the tape that police eventually handed over to attorneys shows that the squad was parked by the Cityview Elementary School with no movement or audio showing either of the officers getting in or out of the vehicle.

hmong police ShootingThe tape produced by the City does show Officer Andersens previous hours and days worth of traffic stops and, for some reason, squad motion is captured, along with the officers voice and presence. Yet, mysteriously, there is void of any of that information depicted on the video that should have been turned on right when the squads sirens were engaged in the seconds before approaching Fong Lee.

Police released a statement indicating that there is a three second delay between sirens being turned on and the video camera being activated. However, time stamps located on the patrol car video and video captured by the schools video system show that much more than three seconds elapse between the siren supposedly being engaged and when the eventual foot chase begins.

The third and most disturbing police action that the attorneys bring up to this point is, The fact that after this tragic event, not one of Fong Lees friends or any of the eye-witness neighbors were formally interviewed by the City of Minneapolis when they quickly concluded their investigation.

This shoddy police work continues throughout this investigation, attorneys point out, from the internal affairs investigation to the grand jury that relieves Officer Andersen of any wrongdoing just days after this tragic event. Even the citys Human Rights Office which was supposed to conduct an independent investigation into whether Fong Lees civil rights had been violated lacks any substantive interviews.

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