ST. PAUL -- A police officer who is Hmong-American was arrested on suspicion of carrying out two drive-by shootings during a string of violent incidents within the city's large Southeast Asian community.
Tou Cha, 35, was jailed Monday on suspicion of aggravated assault with a firearm. No one was wounded in the shootings.
Cha is suspected in a Nov. 29 shooting that shattered several windows at a mall that houses a Lao Veterans group and in an April 20 shooting at the home of a translator for an influential Hmong leader. The leader, General Vang Pao, had been tapped by the CIA during the Vietnam War to lead a secret Hmong army against communists in Laos.
Shell casings from both crime scenes were matched to Cha's department-issued, .40-caliber handgun, police said.
The Hmong, an ethnic group that lived primarily in Laos, began coming to the United States soon after the Vietnam War. About 42,000 Hmong live in and around St. Paul, the largest concentration in the country.
Investigators said they have not connected Cha to other attacks, including the April 25 firebombing of the suburban home of Pao's son. The next morning, fire broke out in an office at a refugee-assistance agency that Pao founded more than 20 years ago. There were no injuries.
The reasons behind the violence are unclear, but the possibilities given include: disputes over whether the United States should relax restrictions on trade with Laos, personal feuds between Hmong clans, and longtime political grudges.
''I don't know the reasons," said Ying Vang, who runs Lao Family of Minnesota, the agency that was firebombed. ''There are a few clans that dislike each other, but it's mostly personal."
Cha is an 11-year veteran of the Police Department. ''This is a very serious situation," Police Chief William K. Finney said in a statement. ''The reputation of, and the trust in, the St. Paul Police Department will not be tarnished by the illegal acts of any personnel."