Community coalition demands answers in fatal St. Paul police shooting of Yia Xiong

Dozens of people gathered at St. Paul City Hall on Friday evening demanding answers from Mayor Melvin Carter and Police Chief Axel Henry in the police shooting death of a 65-year-old Hmong man last month.

Hon Feb. 11, St. Paul police responding to reports of a man threatening residents with a knife at a West End apartment complex shot and killed Yia Xiong when he did not follow orders to drop a 16-inch knife he was brandishing. His family said a language barrier and extreme hearing loss contributed to Xiong’s inability to understand police orders.

On Tuesday, the Justice for Yia Xiong coalition gave Carter and Henry a letter with a list of demands. They asked for a response by 3:30 pm Friday, saying they were going to City Hall to request it at that time.

Carter’s office responded in writing, saying he would not be available Friday night but “would be open to meeting at a later date.”

In his letter, Carter said he appreciated the group reaching out “as we all look for answers and process the many facets of this tragedy.”

Carter reiterated that the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension is doing an independent investigation, as it does in all officer-involved shootings.

He said that while he and Henry will still meet in person to discuss the demands, he is providing the following responses to each demand:

1. That the two officers involved in the shooting (Abdirahman Dahir and Noushue Cha) “be immediately terminated, charged with murder, and arrested. We aim to fight for the prosecution of both officers for murder.”

Carter responded: “… all decisions related to potential prosecution will be made solely and independently by the Ramsey County Attorney, based on the investigation’s findings. Neither I, as Mayor, nor the Police Chief, have any authority in criminal charging or prosecuting decisions related to this tragedy — indeed, our shared passion for an independent investigation demands such separation. Please note that this independent investigative process, which we employ for any event of this nature, has been established through significant community process and demand.”

2. That the other police officers on the scene “be held accountable for not intervening.”

Carter: “… any determinations related to the conduct of any officer would be assessed from the findings of the BCA investigation, when it is complete.”

3. The investigation into “Yia Xiong’s killing be conducted by an independent party.”

Carter: “Your request for an investigation by an independent party is already underway by the BCA.”

4. “State Attorney General Keith Ellison be the lead prosecutor of Officers Dahir and Cha.”

Carter: “The Minnesota Attorney General is a separate and distinct entity which operates independently from city government. Any questions or requests for action by the Attorney General should be presented directly to that office.”

5. “The unedited body camera footage from all Saint Paul police officers involved in this incident be released to the public immediately.”

Carter: “Body camera footage related to this tragedy was turned over to the BCA as part of their independent investigation. Any further release of body camera footage would be available through the BCA’s release of public data. The BCA has publicly stated that such additional data will be released upon completion of their investigation.”

6. “All unedited transcripts and audio recordings of the 911 call regarding this incident be released to the public immediately.”

Carter: The city of St. Paul “does not operate our local 911 system. Any available data of this type may be accessed through Ramsey County, who dispatches police and fire departments.”

7. That the names of all (St. Paul police officers) on the scene be released to the public immediately.

The mayor’s office said this was also addressed in the response to the second demand: “The scope of the independent investigation currently being conducted by the BCA includes all actions of all persons on-scene related to this tragedy. Any determinations related to the conduct of any officer would be assessed from the findings of the BCA investigation, when it is complete.”

Carter closed his letter by saying that a previous commitment prevented him from being at the office on Friday, but “as my office has already communicated, we welcome your group’s visit. …”

Officers responded to the Winslow Commons apartments in the 100 block of South Western Avenue at 4:55 pm Feb. 11 after a 911 call reported a man was kicked out of a party in a first-floor community room, according to a search warrant affidavit filed in the case. The caller said the man returned with a knife and was threatening people with it. Several other residents also called 911.

Officers told Xiong to drop the knife, but he did not respond and turned to unlock his apartment door, according to the BCA.

After Xiong entered his apartment, officers kicked the door to stop it from shutting and ordered him to come out, according to body-camera footage and the BCA.

“They then backed away from the door and down the short hallway. Xiong opened the door and stepped into the hallway, knife still in hand,” the BCA said.

St. Paul police said that “the officers retreated as the man advanced towards them.”

Cha deployed a Taser and Dahir shot Xiong with a rifle. Xiong died from multiple gunshot wounds.

The BCA said agents recovered a 16-inch traditional Hmong knife at the scene.

The coalition is made up of several community leaders and organizations including Hawj United of Minnesota, St. Paul City Council Member Nelsie Yang, Ramsey County Commissioner Mai Chong Xiong, St. Paul school board Member Chauntyll Allen, Minneapolis City Council Member Robin Wonsley, Nhia Yang of Yang Wameng of Minnesota, Minnesota8, the Asian American Organizing Project, Communities United Against Police Brutality, Families Supporting Families Against Police Brutality and Black Lives Matter Twin Cities.

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