November has been a rough month for Minneapolis cops in the line of duty. On Nov. 1, Park Police officer Mark Bedard was killed when a MPD patrol car hit him during the chase of a shooting suspect. Then, early morning on the Friday after Thanksgiving, one officer was punched and another slapped by a group of people after entering a house on a shots-fired call. And early Monday morning, Officer Daniel Grosland was shot in the ankle after responding to a 911 fight call in the Warehouse District downtown.
Later Monday, a reminder of another street incident gone wrong surfaced when the city of Minneapolis settled the Duy Ngo lawsuit, which stemmed from one of the wildest events in the department’s history. Ngo was working undercover in south Minneapolis in 2003 when he was shot in his car by an unknown assailant. Ngo was injured, and put in a call for help. When officers arrived, one of them, Charles Storlie, opened fire on Ngo. When the confusion was over, Ngo had been shot six times in the leg, arm and torso, totaling 15 exit and entrance wounds from the incident.
Accounts of the incident were disputed. Ngo’s name was smeared. Investigations were botched. Cops were suspended. The Bureau of Criminal Apprehension conducted an investigation. Ill will persisted.
This week, the city finally settled Ngo’s $22-million suit for $4.5 million — the largest payout in city history over a police incident.
MPD blue, anyone?
Still, MPD Chief Tim Dolan sounded resigned, if not entirely relieved, on the phone Tuesday. “I thought it could have been more,” the chief said — especially if the case had gone to trial. “Regardless of the finger-pointing and what happened, a jury would feel very sorry for the injuries Duy had.”
Dolan also offered up a frank assessment of some controversies from that fateful night, and what the MPD has done in response. Dolan said that while this may close one chapter of the story, it’s more important that Ngo’s problems will never go away — and the incident has never been far from the minds of some cops. “I don’t think there’s anybody who would trade places with Duy,” Dolan said. “He’s got serious injuries for the rest of his life.
“Everybody knew it was going to be high, the highest settlement in the history of the department,” Dolan continued. “A lot of officers were just wondering when the thing was going to be done.”
The incident sparked much animosity within the department, some siding with Storlie, some siding with Ngo. (Some cops even spread the rumor that Ngo had shot himself to avoid going off to military duty, a notion quickly laid to rest.) Both officers’ actions that February night were called into question in all circles. “Morale has settled down,” Dolan said. “Most of them don’t even know Duy; we have maybe 300 new officers since then.”
Storlie eventually left the department and is working for a private contractor in the Middle East.
If there’s any silver lining to this, Dolan offered, it’s that “there’s been a lot of major changes on how we handled critical incidents and plain-clothes officers.” For instance, undercovers are not allowed to work alone without a supervisor knowing about it, and with another officer “whenever practical.” Much evidence was misplaced or tampered with — inadvertently or not, depending on whom you ask — so some other rather unbelievable missteps have led to seemingly common-sense changes in MPD policy.
“A forensic piece has to go from A to Z when handled from a scene now,” Dolan said. “There have been investigation changes — there should have been 10 on this incident and there were only two. And that vehicle, Duy’s vehicle, was allowed to be released and sold. It was never reviewed, and that never should have happened.”
Still, the Ngo shooting leaves a bitter taste. “Nothing changes the fact that one MPD officer shot another officer,” Dolan concluded. “And Duy’s going to need a lot of care.”