You’ve seen it in the movies and on television; you’ve read about it in numerous crime novels. A cop mistakenly kills a suspect he or she thought was armed. It’s a cop’s worse nightmare. Then, to cover their mistake, the cop plants a throw-down gun on or near the suspect.

In a case of life imitating art, Officer Jason Andersen, a Minneapolis police officer, is facing a wrongful death lawsuit alleging that he deliberately planted a gun on 19 year-old Fong Lee after fatally shooting him eight times in July of 2006 during a foot pursuit. Andersen claimed Lee was evading him and was waving a gun while the officer chased him after interrupting a suspected drug deal. While eight shots into the victim seems excessive considering Lee never got off a shot, and while Lee’s fingerprints were not found on the gun, a grand jury cleared Andersen of any criminal wrongdoing and the department’s IA division found he didn’t violate any procedures. Andersen was awarded the Medal of Valor for bravery.

However, evidence filed in a wrongful death lawsuit last Monday by the victim’s family alleges that the gun found two feet from Lee’s body had been in police possession for nearly two years before the shooting. The suit claims that contradictory police reports, all eyewitness accounts and a security tape from the elementary school near the playground where the shooting occurred, prove that Lee wasn’t carrying a gun.

Six days after Lee’s death, the Russian-made Baikal.380 gun that was recovered near his body was identified as the same gun that was found in a snowbank two years earlier after it was reported stolen during a burglary in North Minneapolis. The gun was never returned to the owner after the trial of the accused burglars. In the initial report after the Lee shooting, the serial number on the gun found near Lee’s body and the serial number on the gun found after the burglary were deemed a match. But another report dated several days later, claimed the gun recovered from the snowbank after the burglary was actually a Belgium-made pistol with a different serial number. Police claim that the pistol was never removed from the property room and never returned to the owner.

Court documents allege that the planted gun was taken from the evidence room at the 4th precinct, the same station Officer Andersen worked out of. Police claim the videotape appears to depict Lee carrying something in his hand. Officer Andersen said Lee had a gun in his right hand. A video expert hired by the family reviewed the tape and determined Lee never had a gun in his right hand during the chase. The gun found near Lee's body was several feet from his left hand. An expert for the city analyzed the gun and found no finger or palm prints, oils, DNA, fibers or any other trace element that could be linked to Lee. There were no bullets in the chamber.

When I viewed the tape, I could clearly see the gun and shadow of the gun in Officer Andersen’s hand. I couldn’t say for certain that Lee had a gun in his hand. I hope when this case goes to trial on May 1st that the videotape can be enhanced to truly judge if Fong Lee was carrying a gun. You can watch the videotape and judge for yourself by using the following link:
http://www.startribune.com/local/42292347.html

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Comment by Christopher Valen on April 4, 2009 at 7:04am
I agree I.J. Cops have split seconds to make decisions. In preparation for my first police procedural, White Tombs, I went through the nine week Citizen's Academy course. I remember the night we had to enter a dark house where someone was reported to have a gun. Although it was all staged and we had paint bullets rather than the real thing, I got a taste of what it might be like. Still, if the officer in question is found to have used a throw-down, I can't have a lot of sympathy for him, particularly given the amount of times the kid was shot.
Comment by I. J. Parker on April 4, 2009 at 5:03am
This is a violent society. A large portion of the public is armed. A police officer in that setting has to assume that he faces an armed combatant (yes, it's a war zone out there). So much for the shooting.
The planting of the gun is another matter and reprehensible.

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