A Police Officer Was Accused of Spying for China. the Charges Were Dropped, but the NYPD Fired Him

AP Photo/John Minchillo, File
Baimadajie Angwang is interviewed at the Law Office of John F. Carman, Esq., Feb. 1, 2023, in Garden City, N.Y.

Baimadajie Angwang thought he would be reinstated to his dream job as a New York City police officer after federal prosecutors dropped criminal charges alleging he spied for China. Instead, he is fighting the police commissioner’s decision to fire him.

In a decision made public recently, Commissioner Edward Caban ordered the immediate firing of Angwang on Jan. 29, saying he disobeyed an order to submit to questioning by internal affairs investigators about the spying case.

Angwang, 37, said he declined to appear before the investigators last year on the advice of his lawyers, because the NYPD refused to give them department documents ahead of the questioning that would have allowed them to prepare. Now he is considering taking the commissioner to court over his firing.

“It’s extremely disappointing,” Angwang told The Associated Press in a phone interview Wednesday. “I have to continue to fight, not just for me, for anyone who were wrongfully accused in the past who’s getting the wrongful treatment I just got at this moment, or any potential discrimination victims in the future. … I will not give up until I find the justice.”

Police officials declined to comment and referred the AP to Caban’s written decision to fire Angwang.

“The Department is a paramilitary organization, and failure to obey and comply with questioning under an official investigation undermines its ability to carry out its mission,” Caban wrote.

Angwang, who was born in Tibet and granted asylum in the U.S. in his teens, was arrested by federal agents in September 2020, charged with feeding information about New York’s Tibetan community to the Chinese consulate in New York. He denied the allegations but spent six months in detention before being freed on bail awaiting trial.

In a surprise move in January 2023, federal prosecutors in Brooklyn suddenly dropped the charges and did not fully explain why, saying only that they uncovered new information and were acting “in the interest of justice.” Prosecutors still haven’t elaborated on their decision.

Angwang, who also served in the U.S. Marines and was deployed to Afghanistan, said he believes he got caught up in the Trump administration’s effort to root out Chinese espionage across U.S. institutions, and alleges there were shades of racism targeting people with Chinese links.

In firing Angwang, Caban chose a harsher penalty than what was recommended in November by an NYPD disciplinary judge who held a hearing on the firing and listened to testimony and arguments from both sides. The administrative judge, Vanessa Facio-Lince, found that Angwang violated department rules by disobeying the order to submit to internal affairs questioning.

Facio-Lince said, however, that he should not be terminated, after citing his good record as a police officer and praise by his superiors. Instead, she recommended an alternate manner of Angwang leaving the department that would allow him to negotiate some terms of his departure, including partial retirement benefits.

Angwang’s lawyer, Michael Bloch, said even the judge’s proposal was out of line with department disciplinary guidelines. Bloch said the maximum penalty Angwang should have faced was a 20-day suspension. Bloch said there have been many other officers who committed more serious misconduct and were allowed to keep their jobs, despite administrative judges recommending their firing.

For Angwang, losing the job has been painful. He said his desire to be a police officer sprouted years ago when an NYPD officer was nice enough to give him directions when he got lost riding the subway. Before his 2020 arrest, he served at a precinct in Queens as a community liaison officer.

“Every time I could help a person, that makes me the happiest person in the world,” he said. “And now, with the decision, I cannot continue to serve the community as a police officer.”

He said it was ironic that the NYPD was firing an officer who immigrated to the U.S. and was supported by the immigrant community, when the department is struggling to make the force more diverse.

“I just want people to be aware as an immigrant I served in the Marines. I went to combat. I went to Afghanistan,” he said. “I was able to become a police officer. I was able to become a community affairs officer. I was able to build a bridge between the underserved community and the NYPD, which never happened in the past. I gained a lot of support. … And now, unfortunately, NYPD terminated that opportunity between the NYPD and the community.”