Family members and community protesters are demanding criminal charges against the St. Paul police officer who shot and killed Yia Xiong, a 65-year-old Hmong war hero.
On Feb. 11, Saint Paul Police Department (SPPD) officers responded to a call regarding a man threatening residents with a knife at an apartment complex in the 100 block of Western Avenue in the West Seventh neighborhood.
In footage recorded by body cameras worn by officers Noushue Cha and Abdirahman Dahir, police can be seen entering the St. Paul apartment building. When officers find Xiong wielding a 16-inch knife, the officers can be heard yelling at the man to “drop the knife” and “get on the ground.”
However, Xiong, whose daughter said he spoke limited English and was hard of hearing, disregards the officers’ commands and enters an apartment.
Officer Cha can then be seen kicking the apartment door open before Xiong steps out. He comes forward with the knife in-hand as Officer Dahir fires his rifle and Officer Cha deploys his taser.
Warning: The following video contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing. Viewer discretion is advised.
According to Xiong’s family, he lost his hearing five decades ago while fighting for the U.S. in the U.S. Secret War in Laos.
Xiong reportedly fought for the CIA and climbed the ranks of the Royal Lao Army before being left in a refugee camp for years after exile in May 1975.
Xiong’s younger brother, Wallor, said that the 65-year-old could not hear anything unless someone was close by and yelling at him. He added that Xiong was in the process of getting hearing aids.
“He cannot hear anyone, he doesn’t speak English and they opened the door and just shot him,” Wallor Xiong told St. Paul Pioneer Press. “They just shot him like an animal, and it just broke my heart.”
Xiong was a husband and a devoted father to his three children.
The grieving family said that he had worked hard to support them after moving to America despite not speaking English.
“My dad is a very kind person,” Xiong’s daughter Mai Tong told CBS News. “He adored everybody. Words cannot describe the pain we are going through.”
The family said that police should have acted with more patience, noting that the apartment building was for the elderly and people with disabilities.
“Cops are trained to be in high-stress situations,” Xiong’s son-in-law Lasalu Yang said. “He didn’t have to shoot my father-in-law.”
The Twin Cities metro area is home to the largest urban population of Hmongs in the U.S.
Many of the first Hmong who arrived in Minnesota were participants in the CIA’s Secret War. The war, which took place from 1959 to 1975, reportedly left a total of about 50,000 Hmong civilians and 40,000 Hmong soldiers dead.
Following Xiong’s death, seven officers involved in the case, including Dahir and Cha, were placed on paid administrative leave while the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension completes its ongoing investigation.
At a press conference on Feb. 17, Saint Paul Chief of Police Axel Henry expressed his condolences to the friends and family of Xiong and noted that the SPPD will “stand together” to support the community.
Over the weekend, community members and family of Xiong gathered at the Hmong 18 Council headquarters in St. Paul and outside of SPPD’s Western District to mourn Xiong’s death and demand justice in the police shooting.
Any loss of life is tragic, and we’re keeping the family and friends of Mr. Xiong in our thoughts as they grieve and look for answers. We know there aren’t words to alleviate their pain, but we hope the release of these videos will help them begin to understand what happened. At the same time, we are thinking about our community members and officers who are also affected. We are a tight-knit city, and what affects one of us affects all of us. That’s why we’re going to stand together and do everything we can to support one another while the BCA completes its investigation.
“We want the officer to be fired and to face justice in court,” Hmong community organizer Snowdon Herr told CBS News.
“We want justice for him,” Mai Tong told St. Paul Pioneer Press. “We don’t want the same thing to happen to another family. We want our voices to be heard.”
Protesters and activists who attended questioned why Dahir had a gun when the other officer had a taser. They also believe that the police had put themselves in danger by getting close to Xiong and keeping the apartment door open.
“They set themselves up for this killing by putting themselves in peril and then using it as justification for murder. It’s unjustified,” Michelle Gross, the president and co-founder of Communities United against Police Brutality, reportedly said.
Xiong’s family has created an online fundraiser on GoFundMe to help with funeral expenses and legal fees.
“We will always remember Yia’s kind and caring nature, his unwavering love for his family and his dedication to serving his country. He was an amazing husband and father, and we will forever cherish the memories we shared with him,” the GoFundMe’s description reads in part.
A public Facebook group page called Justice for Yia Xiong was also created for supporters to come together and demand justice for the Hmong war hero.