Shooting of Kuanchung Kao

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Shooting of Kuanchung Kao
DateApril 29, 1997 (1997-04-29)
TimeApproximately 2:15 AM (PST)
LocationMaria Place, Rohnert Park, California, United States[1]
Coordinates38°19′49″N 122°40′47″W / 38.330170°N 122.679730°W / 38.330170; -122.679730
  • Officer Jack Shields (shooter)
  • Kuanchung Kao (death)
Death(s)Kuanchung Kao
ChargesNone filed[2]
LitigationLawsuit (Kao v. Rohnert Park) settled for US$1 million

The shooting of Kuanchung Kao occurred on April 29, 1997 in Rohnert Park, California. Kao was waving a wooden stick in the street in front of his driveway, prompting multiple 911 calls placed by Kao's neighbors. He was then fatally shot by public safety officer Jack Shields.[1]

Kao's family filed a lawsuit against Rohnert Park, and were settled with $1 million.


Kuanchung Kao (1963/1964 – (aged 33); Chinese: 高寬重; pinyin: Gāo Kuānzhòng) was a Taiwan-born microbiologist working as a quality control engineer.[3] He was married to Ayling Wu, a registered nurse, and they had three children together.

Officer Mike Lynch was the first police respondent on the scene. Officer Jack Shields was the second respondent, a 25-year veteran Rohnert Park public safety officer (the combined police and fire departments) at the time of the shooting in 1997. He was promoted to police lieutenant soon after joining the force, and was later promoted to fire commander after serving more than twenty years as a police lieutenant. However, he was demoted to patrol officer after a year as fire commander after he was found guilty of falsifying time cards for other employees.[4]


On the night of April 28, 1997, Kao was drinking at the Cotati Yacht Club in celebration of a new job.[4] While at the bar, he was involved in two scuffles with at least one other bar patron. In the first, he corrected a patron by stating he was Chinese, not Japanese, to which the other patron responded by saying "You all look alike to me." The bartender, who was familiar with Kao, separated Kao from the other patron by seating them at opposite ends of the bar.[4]

The same patron later approached Kao and whispered some inflammatory words, instigating a larger brawl.[4] During that brawl, Kao was stabbed over the eye with a dart. Cotati police were called to restore order, and Kao was sent home in a taxicab following the intercession of the bartender, who said the bar fight was inconsistent with his regular behavior.[4]

Upon arriving home, Kao did not enter his house but instead stayed outside, crying "Neighbors, please help me!" Postmortem tests later showed Kao's blood alcohol level was 0.23%,[5] well over the legal limit of impairment in California. The disturbance woke other neighbors, who called 911 to report a drunken disturbance in their neighborhood at 2:11. According to witnesses, Kao retrieved a long wooden stick comparable to closet rod from a recreational motorhome vehicle parked in his driveway at around this time.

Four minutes later, the police arrived on the scene.[4] Officer Lynch stopped his patrol vehicle close to Kao in what witness felt was an attempt to scare him,[6] but Kao responded by hitting the patrol car with the stick[7] with sufficient force to puncture the radiator.[citation needed] After backing the car away, Lynch remained in the car and waited for backup.[7] Almost simultaneously, Officer Shields arrived, using a spotlight on Kao and exiting the vehicle, despite Lynch advising Shields to remain in the car.[6] Shields would later testify that he left the car to find Ayling Wu.[7]

Lynch and Shields were in uniform and arrived in marked patrol cars with their sirens on[4] but an eyewitness later stated neither of them identified themselves as police officers.[3] When the officers arrived, Kao's wife, Ayling Wu, was outside and trying to calm Kao down and grab the stick.[7] Shields commanded Wu to step away from Kao,[4][7] and once she had retreated, Shields shot Kao once.[3] Shields would later testify that Kao charged him with the stick raised over his head in a striking posture, closing to within 3 feet (0.91 m).[3][7] However, four separate eyewitnesses would contradict Shields's testimony, saying that Kao was never closer to Shields than 10 feet (3.0 m).[3] Wu, a trained medical professional, was physically restrained from approaching Kao after he was shot.[4] There are conflicting reports about whether the officers attempted to perform CPR on Kao after he was shot,[8]

Kao's body remained in the driveway until noon, and his 5-year-old daughter witnessed part of the disturbance.[4][6][8]

Shields later testified that he feared for his life, since Kao was waving the stick in what was termed a "threatening martial arts fashion."[8] Kao never studied martial arts.[4] A warrant, served the next day on Kao's house, had police comb through the house for evidence of martial arts training or paraphernalia.[9] None was found.

Legal actions[edit]

Sonoma County District Attorney[edit]

The Sonoma County Sheriff's Department conducted an investigation of the shooting[8] and filed a 600-page report with the Sonoma County District Attorney's office in May 1997.[7] On June 19, 1997, Sonoma County District Attorney Michael Mullins decided not to file criminal charges against Officer Jack Shields, concluding that Officer Shields had acted in self-defense.[2][5] The California Attorney General's office investigated whether the decision not to prosecute was an abuse of discretion, concluding in a March 24, 1998 letter from Dan Lungren that deadly force was justified.[10]

Rohnert Park[edit]

On August 5, 1997, the Rohnert Park Department of Public Safety ruled Officer Shields acted in accordance with departmental policies and procedures for the use of deadly force.[11]

Federal Bureau of Investigation[edit]

The United States Attorney in San Francisco requested an FBI investigation of the shooting shortly after it occurred,[8] on the suspicion that Kao's civil rights had been violated through the use of excessive force, which potentially could have led to a life sentence.[12] Senator Barbara Boxer met with Ayling Wu and Nancy Wang on October 3, 1997; following the meeting Boxer stated she would relay concerns to the US Attorney.[13] On January 28, 1998, US Attorney Michael Yamaguchi declined to file criminal charges against Officer Shields, citing insufficient evidence that Kuanchung Kao's civil rights were violated.[14][15]

Civil suit[edit]

On October 1, 1997, John Burris and the Asian Law Caucus filed an administrative wrongful death claim,[16] followed by the February 2, 1998 filing of a US$50 million federal suit against Rohnert Park, its Police Department, and the two officers involved.[17][18] The suit was settled out-of-court for US$1 million in 2001 with no admission of liability.[19]


The shooting of Kuanchung Kao mobilized Asian-American activists to protest the perceived racial factors in his killing.[20] Days after the August 1997 Rohnert Park investigation cleared Shields, on the 100-day anniversary of Kao's death, a vigil was held in San Francisco[21] in part demanding a new investigation.

Activist pressure along with a growing trend of fatal police shootings in Sonoma County culminated in a United States Commission on Civil Rights investigation, which held a public hearing on February 20, 1998.[22] Police and police supporters packed the meeting, forcing those with different viewpoints to stand outside the meeting room.[23][24]

Kao's widow Ayling Wu and their three children moved to Orange County by 1998.[19][25] Most of the court settlement was overtaken with lawyer fees and moving expenses. Wu was forced to sell the family dog, a 3 year old fawn American Mastiff named Nala, which was purchased as a puppy by Kao for their daughter several years prior. Wu received temporary support with childcare from the family nanny, who assisted with the moving transition to Orange County for several months. All of Kao and Wu's extended families reside in Taiwan, and maintained infrequent contact after Kao's death. Following the departure of the family nanny after the move south, Wu fell into a period of extreme depression and experienced suicidal thoughts, while struggling to make ends meet while also attempting to raise the children on her own. Wu's condition gradually improved over the years and continues to lead a moderately successful career as a Director of Nursing, but never remarried or fully recovered from the trauma and isolation. The twin boys currently attend San Diego State University and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, pursuing kinesiology and forestry, hoping to eventually practice physical therapy and smokejumping.[25]

Jack Shields retired from the Rohnert Park Department of Public Safety in 2000 with over 30 years of service[26] and moved to Hamlin, Texas, later becoming the mayor of Hamlin.[27]

Mike Lynch left the Department of Public Safety within one year of the shooting,[28] and was last known to be working in a local pet shop.[6]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ a b "BAY AREA REPORT—NORTH BAY/Rohnert Park Man Fatally Shot by Cops". San Francisco Examiner. April 30, 1997. Retrieved December 2, 2014.
  2. ^ a b Chao, Julie (June 19, 1997). "Cop won't face charges for killing drunken man". San Francisco Examiner. Retrieved December 2, 2014.
  3. ^ a b c d e Chang, Michael (January 2000). "Bridging the Gap: The Role of Asian American Public Interest Organizations in the Pursuit of Legal and Social Remedies to Anti-Asian Hate Crimes". Asian American Law Journal. 7 (1): 139–160. Retrieved December 2, 2014.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Chao, Julie (May 25, 1997). "Asian man's shooting by police spurs three probes". San Francisco Examiner. Retrieved December 2, 2014.
  5. ^ a b Snyder, George (June 19, 1997). "Officer Will Not Face Charges / Rohnert Park cop shot man he says threatened him". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved December 2, 2014.
  6. ^ a b c d Chao, Julie (April 29, 1998). "Widow can't forget shooting in Rohnert Park". San Francisco Examiner. Retrieved December 22, 2014.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g Chao, Julie (July 23, 1997). "Officer who killed man; Details of Rohnert Park shooting in 600-page report". San Francisco Examiner. Retrieved December 2, 2014.
  8. ^ a b c d e Chao, Julie (May 21, 1997). "Outrage at killing by cop in North Bay". San Francisco Examiner. Retrieved December 2, 2014.
  9. ^ Lee, Cynthia (2003). "6: Race and Self-Defense". Murder and the Reasonable Man: Passion and Fear in the Criminal Courtroom. New York: NYU Press. pp. 171–174. ISBN 978-0814751152. Retrieved December 2, 2014.
  10. ^ "Cop slaying of Asian justifiable, Lungren says". San Francisco Examiner. March 28, 1998. Retrieved December 2, 2014.
  11. ^ Snyder, George (August 7, 1997). "Rohnert Park Clears Officer". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved December 2, 2014.
  12. ^ Ingram, Erik (May 21, 1997). "Probe Ordered of Slaying in Rohnert Park". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved December 22, 2014.
  13. ^ "BAY AREA DATELINES: Boxer meets wife of shooting victim". San Francisco Examiner. October 5, 1997. Retrieved December 2, 2014.
  14. ^ Chao, Julie (January 29, 1998). "U.S. won't charge cop in death; Asians upset". San Francisco Examiner. Retrieved December 2, 2014.
  15. ^ Fimrite, Peter (January 29, 1998). "Criminal Charges Dropped Against Rohnert Park Cop". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved December 2, 2014.
  16. ^ Rojas, Aurelio (October 2, 1997). "Wrongful Death Claim Against Rohnert Park". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved December 2, 2014.
  17. ^ Lat, Emelyn Cruz (February 3, 1998). "Widow files lawsuit in Rohnert Park death". San Francisco Examiner. Retrieved December 2, 2014.
  18. ^ Wallace, Bill (February 3, 1998). "Widow Sues Rohnert Park Over Killing by Officer". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved December 2, 2014.
  19. ^ a b Kim, Ryan (August 16, 2001). "$1 million settlement in slaying by Rohnert Park police". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved December 2, 2014.
  20. ^ Winokur, Scott (September 9, 1997). "Kuanchung Kao's political legacy". San Francisco Examiner. Retrieved December 22, 2014.
  21. ^ Fernandez, Manny (August 8, 1997). "Vigil on 100th Day Since Police Shooting". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved December 22, 2014.
  22. ^ California Advisory Committee (May 2000). Community Concerns About Law Enforcement in Sonoma County (Report). US Commission on Civil Rights. Retrieved December 2, 2014.
  23. ^ Moore, Mary (February 23, 1998). "An Open Letter to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights". Sonoma County Free Press. Retrieved December 22, 2014.
  24. ^ Lee, Commissioner Yvonne (May 2000). "Appendix A: Observations of the State Advisory Committee Hearing on Police-Community Relations in Sonoma County, February 20, 1998". Community Concerns About Law Enforcement in Sonoma County (Report). US Commission on Civil Rights. Retrieved December 22, 2014. The members and supporters of law enforcement went so far as to pack the hearing room with supporters wearing yellow buttons to the exclusion of any other voices. While dozens of community members representing other viewpoints were forced to wait downstairs, many supporters of law enforcement refused to comply with the Commission’s request to yield their seats in turn so that we could have a complete and balanced perspective. Even while Sheriff Jim Piccinini boasted about the richness of the diversity of Sonoma County, I could see few of those diverse faces represented among the ranks of law enforcement or present in the hearing room. A true democracy does not claim success simply by silencing those who do not agree.
  25. ^ a b Karolyn Kao, daughter
  26. ^ "2013 CalPERS Pensions: Jack W Shields". Transparent California. 2013. Retrieved December 22, 2014.
  27. ^ Emison, Celinda (August 11, 2010). "Mayor is running Hamlin police department". Abilene Reporter-News. Retrieved December 22, 2014.
  28. ^ Klose, Bob (26 April 1998). "Police Oversight". The Press-Democrat. Santa Rosa, California. Archived from the original on 5 May 1998. Retrieved 22 April 2016.


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