Crime, Law and Justice

Prosecutors still mulling charges a year after fatal St. Paul police shooting

Friends, family of Yia Xiong decry ongoing wait for charging decision

Hmong people hold protest signs
Yia Xiong’s sister, Yang Mee Lee (left), and community members rally outside the St. Paul police Western District office demanding justice for Xiong.
Drew Arrieta | Sahan Journal 2023

One year after a St. Paul police officer shot and killed a 65-year-old Hmong man, prosecutors say they’re still weighing whether to charge the officer with a crime, but family members of Yia Xiong say they’re frustrated with the lack of closure.

“We used to wake up every morning every day believing that surely today will be the day that the county attorney will announce charges against the officers,” said Cindy Lor, Xiong’s daughter-in-law, at a press conference Monday. “But over 365 of these days have passed. And we don’t know if that day will ever come anymore. Instead, we find ourselves asking ‘Why? Why doesn’t my father's life matter?’”

Xiong, 65, was shot Feb. 11, 2023, as officers responded to reports of a man threatening people with a knife. Police body camera video shows officers Abdirahman Dahir and Noushue Cha finding Xiong in a common area of Winslow Commons, an affordable housing complex for people who are disabled or over 62 years old.

As Xiong walks away, the officers shout for him to stop and drop the knife. He continues walking down a hallway and then into his own apartment and closes the door.

After the officers push the door open, Xiong emerges holding a knife in front of him. The officers take several steps back before Dahir fires several shots from his department-issued rifle and Xiong falls. Police said Cha also discharged his Taser. Authorities said they recovered a 16-inch “traditional Hmong knife” at the scene. 

Family members have called for the officers to be charged, saying Xiong was deaf, could not understand English and struggled with mental health issues. Family members said Xiong lost his hearing fighting in the U.S. “Secret War” in Laos.

“I mourn not only for my father, but for a society where these incidents continue to occur, where the lives of those who have sacrificed so much are cut short and in a blink of an eye by those who are supposed to protect us,” Lor said.

The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension sent its investigation findings to Ramsey County Attorney John Choi in May. Attorney General Keith Ellison also joined the review.

However, there’s still no resolution. In a joint statement, Ellison and Choi said the review is ongoing, as is a “commitment to a complete and impartial review of the evidence.” They declined to comment on a timeline.

The BCA said both officers had one year of law enforcement experience and were put on administrative leave at the time, although the police department said they have since returned to work.

In a statement following the shooting last year, Mark Ross, the St. Paul Police Federation president, said officers had “no other option.”

Michelle Gross, president of Communities United Against Police Brutality, said they were told by the county attorney in July that a police practices expert from California was working on a report for the review.

“And he said at that point they had been waiting, you know for a short period of time,” Gross said. “But now it’s more than six months later, and I’m sorry, I’m a paralegal. I work with experts every day. There’s no way in the world it takes that long for an expert to issue a report. So what's going on here?”

Snowdon Herr, who leads the Coalition for Justice for Yia Xiong, said the coalition was told they could expect closure in February or March this year.

Among some Hmong elders, the shooting created a fear of being shot by police, Herr said. He said he works to educate them about preparing for situations where they might be misunderstood because of language or cultural barriers — for example, when gardening with Hmong knives.

Transcripts of the 911 calls around the incident indicate that one of the callers was trying to get Xiong to leave a child’s birthday party and that he came back with a knife. Another said Xiong was handing children money and they wouldn’t take it. Herr previously told the Pioneer Press that it’s part of Hmong culture for elders to “give money to children and pat their heads.”

Herr said he visited Xiong’s grave on Sunday.

“I need to go back to visit his grave and tell him that justice for Yia Xiong is not there yet,” Herr said. “I’m begging for justice.”