July 31, 2008— -- A Minneapolis family is outraged that members of the SWAT team that mistakenly raided their house and fired upon them last December have been awarded medals for their bravery under fire.
Vang Khang and his family had the fright of a lifetime when they believed their home was being invaded by burglars, or worse. It was actually a SWAT team, conducting a high-risk search warrant -- on the wrong house.
Acting on tips from a gang informant, police forced their way into the North Minneapolis home in the early morning of December 16 and traded fire with a terrified Khang, police said.
"The fact that the city of Minneapolis would give medals of valor and commendation to this SWAT team is shocking and outrageous," the family's attorney, Tom Heffelfinger, told ABCNews.com
Because the house is located in a part of town known for gang violence, Khang said he feared an intrusion when his home was forcefully entered. With his legally owned hunting shotgun, he fired at what he thought were unknown invaders from behind the second-floor bedroom door where he, his wife, and four of their six children huddled for safety, according to Heffelfinger.
When police responded by firing 22 rounds, bullets landed within inches of the family's heads, Heffelfinger said.
On Monday, Police chief Tim Dolan awarded all eight SWAT team members medals for "bravery in action under fire," police spokesman Sgt. Jesse Garcia told ABCNews.com.
Based on information given from the unnamed former gang member, police had successfully raided three other houses earlier that evening, resulting in multiple arrests of gang members and the discovery of illegal drugs and weapons, Garcia said.
According to Garcia, the informant claimed to have lived in the final residence, Khang's home, with many high-level gang members.
"We had the right house and right address -- according to what the informant told us -- but it's unclear why she gave that address, since the family had no ties whatsoever to the gang," Garcia explained.
According to Heffelfinger, the Laotian family has owned and lived in the house for four years and had no knowledge of the female police informant. "Ironically, the house is located across the street from a police precinct," Heffelfinger said, "so, if [the SWAT team] had simply asked the precinct, they would have learned the family was not gang bangers."
"They were acting in good faith on a warrant that was properly drawn up, based off of what appeared to be good information," Garcia said. "Their bravery under fire should not be negated [because of the misinformation]."
But the Khangs, through their lawyer, beg to differ.
"They were given medals for taking fire in my client's house ... where, by the grace of God, no one was killed that night," Heffelfinger said.
Police claimed to have protected the six children -- ranging in ages from 3 to 15 -- that night, but Heffelfinger says it's "hogwash." Two of the children jumped up from a mattress on the floor to hide in a corner seconds before the same mattress was littered with bullets fired from the police, he said.
According to Heffelfinger, the SWAT team raid was completely unnecessary, because in the evening's earlier raids -- as many as eight hours prior to the Khang invasion -- the police had arrested the person they had sought and found the guns they were looking for.
Heffelfinger said that, apart from Khang's moderate understanding of English, every other member of the family is fluent. They are all citizens of the United States.
At Heffelfinger's urging, the city of Minneapolis has given the family $7,500 for the damage caused by the fire, but he explained this "is only short-term help and by no means resolved the issue."
An internal affairs investigation into the intrusion mishap is ongoing, but the police have found no fault on the part of the SWAT team members, Garcia said. The probe continues, however, on the investigative mistakes made in the botched SWAT raid.
This isn't the first time a SWAT raid has gone wrong, though. As reported by the Washington Post, a SWAT team on Tuesday raided a D.C. area Mayor's home on suspicion of drug possession and fatally shot his two dogs.