COON RAPIDS, Minn. (WCCO) — The police chief in Coon Rapids is apologizing for an incident involving one of the department’s police dogs biting an 81-year-old grandmother over the weekend.
“It’s regrettable that this old woman was injured,” Chief Brad Wise said. “We’re sick about it. The officers that were there were sick about it.”
The incident started around 6:45 a.m. Sunday. Chief Wise said it was still dark outside at the time.
A 911 came in from a homeowner who told dispatchers she was scared because she saw somebody in a black coat go through her backyard. She then heard noises and banging sounds. Police thought a burglary might have been happening.
The first officer arrived on scene with K-9 Taz. Chief Wise said the officer noticed a person with a flash light going through a shed in the yard that was next door from 911 caller.
“There was nothing about the 911 call or what the officer saw at the scene that would give them any hint that this was anything other than a burglary in progress,” Chief Wise said.
The department released the dispatch audio of the incident. In it, you can hear the officer on scene say, “K-9 warning has been given,” as well as a dog barking in the background. Chief Wise said the commands to come outside of the shed lasted about 15 minutes.
“We tried a long time to try to communicate with that person and got no response,” he said.
Later in the dispatch audio you can hear an officer on scene say, “We’ve given 10-15 K-9 warnings, suspect is failing to listen or come out of the shed.”
Chief Wise said the person in the shed, who turned out to be 81-year-old Choua Xiong, never answered. He added that because the person was in a shed, officers worried a tool might be used against them as a weapon. Taz was then sent in to apprehend the person inside.
“The first sign that something may be unusual was the sound of a female voice,” said Chief Wise. “Not many burglars are females and that was the first inkling that this may be something different than what [the responding officers] believed it to be.”
Chief Wise said at the moment the K-9 officer called off Taz. Inside the shed they found Xiong. They said she had been bitten on her arm through her jacket.
Chief Wise said officers walked her to a squad car to get warm and be tended to as they waited for an ambulance to arrive.
“I guarantee you had the officers standing there heard a female voice in any language, shout out, cry out, say anything, this would have been a completely different outcome,” he said.
As Xiong waited in the car, Chief Wise said officers were able to make contact with someone in the home which turned out to be Xiong’s grandson. They said it was only then that they realized Xiong lived at the home was up early in the morning working in her shed.
“We’re sorry for the outcome of this. I wished there had been some way the officers could have known or could have anticipated that this would have been this woman and this certainly is regrettable, no question about it,” he said.
Chief Wise said his officers followed protocol and although he regrets the outcome, he said he’s not sure his officers could have done anything differently.
We visited Xiong’s home. The family member who answered did not want to comment and referred us to their attorney. Calls to the attorney were not answered. It’s unknown if her family plans to press charges.
Chief Wise posted a statement to the department’s Facebook page as well as the dispatch audio. He said it was important for people to hear.
“I wanted the public to be able to put themselves in the position of the officers,” he said. “The way the call was broadcast is the officers believed they were responding to a potential burglary in progress.”
When asked if the responding officers knocked on the door of Xiong’s home to verify if the person in the shed might have been a resident before sending in the K-9 he said they did not. “Apparently it didn’t occur to them at the time that it might have been somebody in their own shed, in the dark, with a flashlight who was failing to respond to the officers’ commands,” he said.
To see the CRPD Facebook post statement, click here.