There were calls for change outside the Coon Rapids Civic Center Friday afternoon as members of the Hmong community gathered to address a Feb. 5 incident when an elderly woman was bitten by a police dog in her backyard shed.
The victim, 81-year-old Choua Xiong, suffered bites to her arm and wrist when officers sent a K-9 into a shed on her property, believing a burglar was inside.
Xiong was not able to understand the officer’s commands.
As supporters rallied for Xiong, many indicated she was the victim of discrimination.
“Every person of every different skin color should be treated equally,” said Wa Houa Vue, of the Hmong 18 Clan Council. “We as community members and neighbors are concerned.”
According to the police report, early Sunday morning officers responded to a call from a resident on 121st Lane NW who thought she heard suspicious noises outside her home.
A police officer arriving at the scene reported seeing someone with a flashlight on duck into a shed in the neighboring backyard.
According to the transcript, an officer outside the shed started yelling a K-9 warning at 6:55 a.m. and as a perimeter was set up, 10 to 15 more K-9 warnings were given, but the suspect remained in the shed with the flashlight turned off, giving no signs of coming out and not reacting to officers’ commands.
Ten minutes later, at 7:05 a.m., police called for an ambulance and the K-9 was sent into the shed, the transcript states.
According to Wise, when the dog went into the shed – the door was partially open but it was dark inside – a female voice began yelling, the officer called off the K-9 immediately and officers went into the shed and took custody of the woman.
At Friday’s press conference hosted outside the Coon Rapids Police Department, many leaders called for apologies and an investigation into the incident.
The Coon Rapids Police Department is reviewing all aspects of the case moving forward.
Police Chief Brad Wise told ABC Newspapers that officers were responding to a suspicious person report and under those circumstances and given the time of day, they used the correct protocols as they believed they were interrupting a burglary in progress.
“But the outcome was bad, and we are sick about what happened,” he said.
The victim’s attorney, Ben Gallagher, said Xiong suffered assaultive and dehumanizing treatment.
He said Xiong and her family want justice, and he will be conducting his own investigation.
While allegations of racial bias have been made, both at the press conference and on social media, Wise said that was not the case.
He takes responsibility for the police department’s role in the K-9 bite, but said Coon Rapids officers did not mistreat Xiong once they discovered she was not a burglar.
Wise said the next step will be to sit down with members of the Hmong 18 Council and review all of the information that has been collected. This includes dash cam video from a police squad that shows Xiong being helped to the car, not dragged, as was alleged at the news conference.
As of Wednesday, Xiong’s family had not filed a complaint of mistreatment with the Coon Rapids Police Department.
Council Member Susan Pha, from neighboring Brooklyn Park, said she hopes all cities and local police departments are asking themselves some questions after the Coon Rapids incident.
Pha is the city’s first council member of color.
With a very diverse population, “this incident could very much happen in Brooklyn Park,” she said. “We need to use this case as a way to improve policy and protocol.”
She said she will be having discussions with her colleagues on the council and at the police department.
State Sen. John Hoffman, whose district includes part of Coon Rapids, spoke briefly at the press conference.
He promised to foster conversations with the Hmong community to help heal and move on, “and make sure an incident like that never happens again.”
Hoffman was the only Coon Rapids elected official in attendance.
Members of the NAACP and Black Lives Matter were in Coon Rapids to support Xiong.
“Police violence is an issue many of us have been fighting for a long time,” said Nekima Levy-Pounds, past president of the Minneapolis NAACP.
She also called for an independent investigation into the incident and urged Gov. Mark Dayton to speak out.
“We ask our white allies to recognize this is a problem that affects you too,” Levy-Pounds said.
John Thompson, of Black Lives Matter, said that if officers were following protocol when Xiong was attacked, “then sir, it is time to change protocol.”