MINNEAPOLIS (CN) — The family of a mentally ill man killed by police claims in court that he was in obvious medical distress and cops had no reason to shoot him.
Sok Kong, trustee for the next of kin of Map Kong, sued the City of Burnsville, Minn., and three of its police officers — Maksim Yakovlev, John Mott and Taylor Jacobs — in Minnesota federal court on Wednesday.
In the early morning of March 17, 2016, customers and employees of a Burnsville McDonald's noticed Map Kong in the driver's seat of his vehicle in the restaurant's parking lot, convulsing and in possession of a knife, according to the complaint.
Cops responded to the scene after calls were placed to 911, and a police SUV parked behind Kong's vehicle to prevent it from moving, the complaint states.
Kong continuously convulsed in the driver's seat of his vehicle, and Wednesday's lawsuit claims it was obvious he was suffering from a psychological or neurological crisis.
According to the complaint, police had no reason to believe there was a firearm in Kong's vehicle or that he had committed a violent crime, and at no time did Kong threaten an officer or anybody else.
Cops allegedly shouted repeated and aggressive commands to Kong for an extended period of time, but he was unresponsive.
"In contrast to these loud and aggressive commands, two of the responding officers...conversed calmly about the situation," the complaint states. "One officer noted, 'We can hold him off a little bit here...We can bust the window and tase him if you want. If he gets out, I'll go lethal.' The other officer responded, 'This is going to end badly either way.' At that point in time, these two officers had affirmatively decided to force Map out of his vehicle and to kill him."
The two cops then allegedly broke the front passenger window and shot Kong with a stun gun before the situation turned deadly.
"After being tased, Map opened the driver's door of his vehicle, fell to the ground, stood back up, and began to run away from the officers. In response, Defendants Yakovlev, Mott, and Jacobs fired numerous rounds from their service pistols at Map while he ran away from them," the lawsuit states. "Map sustained multiple gunshot wounds. He died as a result of his wounds. Prior to shooting, none of the officers on scene, including the individual defendants, issued any warning to Map that they would shoot him."
Much of what unfolded at the scene was recorded by the officers' body cameras, according to the complaint.
In an interview with investigators from the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, Yakovlev said he shot Kong as he was running away because Yakovlev believed Kong posed an immediate threat.
"I felt that he was either gonna hurt somebody, or he was gonna run into traffic, or he was gonna get into the car that was parked on [Highway] 13, and I didn't know exactly what he was going to do. I, I wasn't sure if he was gonna come back at us," Yakovlev said, according to Wednesday's lawsuit.
Mott's decision to shoot was made while Kong was still in his vehicle, the complaint states.
Mott allegedly told investigators, "I feared that if he got out, he was going to kill somebody, either some innocent person, some bystander, or he was gonna turn and come after one of my partners or I, and from the distance that we were, I felt like I wouldn't have had time to, to even react ... and he exited the, the, he, the door ended up opening, and I saw him get out, and at that point, that was my mind made up that I had to stop him from killing somebody else."
In Jacob's statement with the BCA, he said his decision to shoot Kong was based on his belief that Kong was running towards McDonald's and people in the restaurant, according to the lawsuit.
"He started moving away from us towards, uh, McDonald's... Um, and then, again, during this incident, I observed people or civilians, you could call them, coming in and out of that McDonald's area. I also saw him inside the restaurant. I knew there was people inside there as well. So, at that point, um, I don't know, I either threw my taser on the ground or, I can't recall where it went, but I, I tossed my taser, redrew my firearm, and, um, uh, fired at the suspect, um, to stop the, the lethal threat," Jacobs reportedly said in his interview.
A neighbor was also interviewed regarding his interaction with Kong the night before the shooting, the complaint states. The neighbor reportedly said Kong seemed to be having a mental health episode of some kind, but they did not feel threatened.
Kong was born in Cambodia in 1977. His family fled the war-torn country for the United States when Kong was a young child after their village was bombed, according to the complaint.
Kong and his family enjoyed a peaceful life in the United States, but he struggled with mental illness because of the trauma he experience while in Cambodia, his representative claims.
The lawsuit on Kong's behalf seeks $3 million, including punitive damages, for claims of deliberate indifference to medical needs, excessive force, failure to train and negligence.
Kong's next-of-kin trustee is represented by Steven Meshbesher of Minneapolis.
Burnsville City Attorney Elliott Knetsch declined to comment on the lawsuit, but told Courthouse News that the League of Minnesota Cities Insurance Trust will likely defend the city in the case.
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