Hmong American man brutally beaten by hunter following trespassing dispute

Sao Lue Vang, 64, was severely beaten by Kevin Elberg on November 5th after a trespassing dispute. Vang's family are questioning if racial bias may have contributed to the attack.
Sao Lue Vang, 64, was severely beaten by Kevin Elberg on November 5th after a trespassing dispute. Vang’s family are questioning if racial bias may have contributed to the attack.

Three weeks ago, 64-year-old Sao Lue Vang was out hunting with two friends in Pepin County, Wisconsin. It was a hobby that Vang had participated in for twenty years. He was familiar with the local public land, and with the etiquette of the local hunting community.

On November 5th, Vang and his friends parked on a road and hiked into the public lands. Vang then separated from his friends when he was confronted by Kevin Elberg, whose family owns private land that borders the public woods. Elberg accused Vang of trespassing, and then proceeded to brutally attack Vang. From a Facebook post written by an advocate of Vang’s family:

According to Sao [Lue Vang], Elberg started harassing, yelling, and accusing Sao for being on his property. Although Sao’s english speaking abilities are limited, he was able to understand what Elberg was saying. He politely apologized to Elberg for the misunderstanding. To which Elberg replied, “I don’t care”. The confrontation escalated.

Fearing that Elberg would harm him, Sao radioed his hunting party and proceeded to walk away from Elberg. Sao is 5’3, 117 lbs. Elberg appeared to be in his early 40’s, over 6 feet tall and weigh around 180 lbs. (The Leader Telegram newspaper later confirmed that Elberg had military background).

Suddenly, from behind, Elberg struck Sao with enough force to knock him onto the ground. Elberg wrestled Sao for his walkie talkie while Sao continued to cry out for help.

While on the ground and helpless, Sao was kicked and struck several more times in the stomach and body. Elberg then grabbed Sao’s rifle and struck him with it, causing lacerations and bleeding to his left hand. Sao pleaded for his life and continued to yell for help. Elberg put his hands over Sao’s mouth, causing him to gasp for air. Shortly after, Sao was unable to breathe and became unconscious.

Elberg was arrested on November 8th and released without bond, pending possible criminal charges. Meanwhile, Vang’s family are now speaking out, accusing Elberg of racial bias in this horrific assault (video after the jump).

WQOW TV: Eau Claire, WI NEWS18 News, Weather, and Sports

In the interview, Vang describes the attack:

“I thought immediately, ‘I’m never going to see my kids again’. If I didn’t have my two friends there, he probably would have killed me.”

The attack reminds of a similar incident that occurred in 2004, when Hmong American hunter Chai Vang claims he was confronted and verbally harassed by a group of eight White hunters for using a private deer stand. Vang testified that after apologizing for being unaware that the deer stand was privately owned and after trying to defuse the situation by walking away, one of the hunters pointed a gun at him. Vang said that he was afraid for his life and was acting in self-defense when he shot his confronters: six died, including father and son Robert and Joey Crotteau, and another two were wounded.

The incident ignited long-standing racial tension in Minnesota between Whites and the growing Hmong American population, and community advocates even suggest that anti-Hmong stereotypes and linguistic barriers may have contributed to the original altercation as well as how Vang’s testimony was interpreted — and perhaps misinterpreted — during his trial. Vang was eventually sentenced to life in prison without parole on six counts of first degree murder.

However, the case has had lasting impact in Minnesota and the rest of the Midwest, where distrust and dehumanization of Hmong Americans remains high. In the aftermath of Chai Vang’s case, a picture of a bumper sticker emblazoned with the words, “Save a Deer, Kill a Hmong” was published in a local magazine.

A picture of a bumper sticker published in Hmong Today in the wake of the killing of six White hunters by Hmong American Chai Vang.
A picture of a bumper sticker published in Hmong Today in the wake of the killing of six White hunters by Hmong American Chai Vang.

In a documentary filmed about the incident (embedded at the bottom of this post and definitely worth the time to watch), Hmong Americans living in the Midwest talk about their alienation and marginalization at the hands of White locals before and after the 2004 Vang shooting. Language and cultural barriers persist that cast the Hmong American community as the Perpetually Foreign interloper in the eyes of the non-Hmong Midwesterner.

Ten years later, the tensions remain high, and the Hmong American community remains dehumanized. Even in the coverage of this latest incident, local news station WQOW neglected to name assault victim Sao Lue Vang in their on-screen card (included above), instead labeling him simply “Hmong Hunter”. Vang does not even earn the dignity of being named in the news coverage about his beating.

This is how local news station WQOW identified assault victim Sao Lue Vang in their on-air news coverage: as simply, "Hmong Hunter".
This is how local news station WQOW identified assault victim Sao Lue Vang in their on-air news coverage: as simply, “Hmong Hunter”.

The Vang family is seeking answers in Sao Lue Vang’s attack, and have enlisted hep from the Coalition for Community Relations. Coalition representative Tou Ger Bennett Xiong told media:

Xiong said, “There are some alarming questions that I think, and on behalf of the Vang family, that, ‘Why is, even if he was trespassing, what led to these injuries, to his body, a four-grade liver laceration, where they (medical staff) couldn’t even address at one hospital, they had to transfer from Wabasha to a larger Mayo hospital to address?’”

After a month, Kevin Elberg has still not been charged with a crime, even though he was initially arrested on suspected battery.

Kevin Elberg, in his arrest photo.
Kevin Elberg, in his arrest photo.

Multiple Hmong American groups are now joining forces to demand an answer in Vang’s assault and to specifically demand to know why criminal charges have yet to be filed; involved groups include the Hmong American Community of Menomonie, the Hmong Councils of Greater Wisconsin, and the Hmong MidWest Hunters Association along with Vang’s family and the rest of the Hmong American community.

You can contribute to this coordinated community outcry to hold the Pepin County justice system accountable by signing this Change.org petition and sharing Vang’s story with your network.

Watch “Open Season”, the story of the 2004 shooting by Chai Vang:

Update: Kevin Elberg has now been charged with two felony counts; the criminal complaint against him further includes a statement by the first responding officer that Elberg smelled strongly of “intoxicants” in the moments after the attack.

 

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  • Secret Person

    What an incredibly stupid posting. The Hmong have been around for long enough to figure out what the rules are. It’s up to the Hmong community to educate each other. Stop trying to offload the blame onto others. And Vang, who has been in the US for decades and still doesn’t know English, is at fault here. If he doesn’t know English that well then he shouldn’t be going out hunting unless he’s accompanied by someone who does know. The fact that he doesn’t know English after so long should be grounds for deportation. The US doesn’t need low IQ immigrants who don’t speak English and aren’t law abiding. The private property owner has every right to beat the crap out of a trespasser. It’s morons like you who defend loser immigrants that is making the US a 3rd world cesspool.

  • thorntme

    Hmong have a well-documented propensity for trespassing while hunting, but they also like to club dogs, and rape young girls. Maybe it is time to start asking THEM to understand our culture instead of asking us to be more “culturally sensitive.”

  • 777Mark777

    As I learned about this case, I was immediately reminded of the racial trouble in Wisconsin between the Native Americans of the Ojibwe tribe and the local European American population regarding walleye fishing rights. That trouble extended through the ’70s and ’80s, as the Ojibwe people exercised their treaty rights to practice their cultural tradition of catching walleye fish, even after the state had closed the fishing season. After legal battles, the courts agreed that the treaties indeed permitted the Ojibwe to fish, despite the closed season. As they tried to fish, the local whites harassed them horribly. They lined the edges of the lakes, calling them all kinds of racial slurs, making physical threats against them, and zooming around their fishing boats with powerboats. How those Native people held their tempers in check and remained patient with those whites is beyond me. They all eventually came to some kind of understanding, and the harassment ceased. But that kind of racist behavior by white people, who did the same with these Hmong people, can obviously trigger deadly violence, if it’s directed at a particular intolerant victim. Since the whites didn’t think that the Ojibwe should have been allowed to practice their treaty rights — guaranteed to them when they signed the treaty while ceding valuable tracts of land — then I would have suggested tearing up the treaties and allowing the Ojibwe to reclaim all of their former lands, forcing all of those racist trespassing white people to pack up and leave from there. I am just amazed that Euro-Americans, who are just as foreign to this land as are the Hmong people, have become so delusional with their erroneous belief that they and they alone should be able to experience and enjoy the natural bounties of this land, while denying those same rights to all others. All it takes is for some misunderstanding to occur, or for special rights to be extended to certain others, for the whites to become unhinged and immediately resort to racial insults and harassment. Being Native American, I’ve experienced the same insults from them countless times. SMH

  • Mas Salleh

    Yup.Handyman is a good example of it.

  • AtlasObjectivist

    Your comment has nothing to do with this story other than to show your ignorance.