By Randy Furst | Star Tribune
The family of a Somali American man who was shot to death during a multicity SWAT operation in Eagan a year ago has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit alleging that the shooting was unjustified and that the man was targeted because he was a racial minority.
Killed in the confrontation was Isak Aden, 23, a student at the University of Minnesota who was studying information technology and infrastructure. He had immigrated to the United States with three younger siblings in 2006 and was raised by a grandmother. His parents were killed in the Somali civil war. Aden also operated a home-health service in Roseville and worked at a local credit union. Aden had no criminal record, according to his attorney.
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Dakota County Attorney James Backstrom in November absolved the officers who shot Aden, concluding the use of deadly force was legally justified. Backstrom said it was reasonable for five officers who shot and killed Aden to believe that Aden posed a deadly threat.
However, critical facts remain in dispute, and lawyers for the family cite an investigation by the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension to bolster their case.
“It is pretty clear that at the time they elected to shoot, he was not threatening anyone,” Matthew Lawlyes, the family lawyer, said in an interview.
The lawsuit, which was filed Thursday, names as defendants the cities of Bloomington, Burnsville, Eagan and Edina, which supplied police for the operation, plus five police officers, two sergeants, one lieutenant and Eagan Police Chief Roger New. The suit seeks damages in excess of $20 million.
According to the lawsuit, Aden was despondent after getting a call from either a male caller or a former girlfriend who claimed they had seen explicit photos of him. According to Dakota County prosecutors, after Aden and the woman argued, she called police saying he had pulled a gun on her.
The lawsuit said she had told police before they shot him that he had kept the gun in his pocket and did not threaten her with it.
When police found Aden, he was sitting on a curb on Seneca Road pointing a gun to his head, according to Dakota County prosecutors. They said Aden told officers several times, “Shoot me.”
Police amassed a SWAT team from Eagan and Bloomington and a tactical team from Burnsville to surround Aden. At 7:07 p.m. he put the gun down, the Dakota County Attorney’s Office said. Police tried to negotiate with him over a loudspeaker for several hours.
Eventually, a cellphone in a box was thrown to him and negotiations began with Eagan officer Joseph Moseng.
At 10:38 p.m., while Aden was talking to Moseng, police threw three flash-bang devices at Aden and shot nonlethal rounds at him, prosecutors said. They said Aden lunged for his gun, picked it up in his right hand and fired.
Police officers said that, fearing for their lives, they opened fire and he was hit by 11 rounds and killed.
Lawlyes said police video shows that Aden picked up his handgun after nonlethal rounds were fired. He then put the gun on the ground while leaning on it and raised his left hand in a surrendering postion, Lawlyes said. After Aden was hit with the fatal bullets, he fired the gun accidentally, although not while pointing it at anyone, he said.
“Officer Moseng stated that the negotiations might have been effective had he been given more time,” the lawsuit says.
“It is very hard not to be devastated by this,” said Sumaya Aden, trustee of her brother’s estate.
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