A group of Hmong community leaders in Minnesota are calling on the Coon Rapids Police Department and mayor to investigate why an 81-year-old grandmother was bitten by a police dog while working in her backyard.
The woman, Choua Xiong, was in a rear shed on the morning of Feb. 5, when police received a call about a possible burglary suspect walking between yards, according to a police incident report. They investigated and saw someone with a flashlight in a backyard shed, the report read. They shouted multiple warnings, police said, and sent a police dog into the shed to apprehend the suspect after not receiving an answer.
The police dog bit Xiong on the arm, according to a police department Facebook post. It was not until she was taken into custody that police officers realized that they had apprehended “an 81 year-old non-English speaking female.”
A rally, organized by Hmong 18 Clan Council — an organization representing 18 Hmong clans in Minnesota — as well as other advocates, took place outside the Coon Rapids City Hall on Friday. The group is also asking the police department to improve their cultural competency.
“Many in the Hmong community believe there should be an investigation and, if warranted, disciplinary actions,” Tou Ger Bennett Xiong, a Hmong-American community activist who has been in contact with the family, told NBC News. “Grandmas should not fear for their lives in their own homes. To brush this off as an unfortunate incident and misunderstanding is unacceptable. To blame this on the fact that Grandma did not speak English reflects how insensitive and culturally incompetent the Coon Rapids PD staff are.”
Choua Xiong’s grandson told police that she had been putting some of her belongings into the shed that morning, according to the incident report.
Coon Rapids Police Chief Brad Wise told NBC News by email that police officers that morning believed that they had cornered an intruder. After making commands for 13 minutes, Wise said, the officers sent a police dog into the shed. Wise noted that in that situation, "it was seen as a lower risk of harm to send the dog in first rather then have officers go in with guns drawn."
"Officers were subsequently shocked to discover the intruder with the flashlight was in fact this elderly woman who spoke no English," Wise said. "Officers were horrified and apologized profusely (if not effectively due to a language barrier) as they escorted her from the back yard to wait in a warm police car on the street for the ambulance to arrive and transport her to the nearest hospital."
The family alleged that Choua Xiong was dragged by police officers about 100 feet from the shed to the police car, resulting in cuts and bruises. Wise characterized allegations that Xiong was dragged "across the frozen ground" and that "officers treated her with viciousness" as "absolutely false" rumors fueled by social media.
According to Tou Ger Bennett Xiong, the family is seeking an explanation and an apology from the police department.
"I assure all that I and my department will work diligently and with full transparency with the family, their attorneys, and with the local Hmong 18 Council to address this situation with absolute clarity," Wise said. "The facts will be fully known and will not be in dispute once all parties are finally able to come together."
NBC News has reached out to the Xiong family's lawyer and will update with a response.