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Video will exonerate officers, police say

Merced police officials said Wednesday they have a video recording that will exonerate two officers involved in Saturday's shooting that resulted in the death of 21-year-old Vang Thao, who was inadvertently shot after the officers opened fire on another man they say was holding a gun.

The footage, recorded by a device worn by one of the officers, will not be released until all investigations and criminal proceedings have been completed, said Merced Police Chief Norm Andrade during a news conference.

Police also released a 911 call transcription, in which an anonymous woman reported that a man "pointed a gun at a whole bunch of people" at a house in the 1500 block of Buckingham Court that night.

During a news conference Wednesday, Andrade chronicled the events leading up to the shooting.

Around 11 p.m., the two officers responded to the emergency call, parking their marked patrol car around the corner from the dead-end street.

They approached on foot to find Kong Xiong, 18, holding a loaded handgun outside the house, Andrade said.

"Both officers illuminated the scene with lights attached to their handguns and observed Xiong standing at the front of the house with his back partially toward officers," he said. "Xiong suddenly turned toward officers with a handgun in his right hand and began running parallel to the house."

The officers responded by firing at Xiong, and subsequently through a fence behind him — an event lasting "five seconds," according to Andrade.

The police chief wouldn't say how many rounds the officers fired. However, at least five bullet holes are visible in the fence.

Thao and a 17-year-old boy were standing behind the fence at the time. According to police, Thao died at a hospital. The teen survived with a leg wound.

Xiong is scheduled to be arraigned at 3 p.m. today in Merced County Superior Court. The hearing was postponed Wednesday because of possible conflict of interest concerns raised by the appointed deputy public defender.

Andrade expressed his condolences to the victim's family but took no blame for Thao's killing.

"His death was a terrible tragedy that could have been prevented if not for the criminal actions of one man. Kong Xiong is responsible for the death of Vang Thao," Andrade said, adding, "Xiong has an extensive arrest record of gang-related crimes, including possession of an assault weapon, and other weapons charges, gang fights and criminal street gang activity."

Mai Thao, Vang's older sister, said she is curious to see the video and whether the officers announced themselves. She also expressed concerns about how many times the officers fired their weapons, and questioned their experience.

The two officers are on administrative leave.

Police haven't released their names. Both have been on the force for about five years, Andrade said.

Reporter Joshua Emerson Smith can be reached at (209) 385-2486 or at jsmith@mercedsunstar.com.

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