A Connecticut state trooper was arrested on Tuesday after he fired seven times into the driver’s side window of a car reported stolen, shooting and killing a 19-year-old community college student during what his family says was a mental health crisis. Brian North turned himself into Bethany state police. He was placed on paid administrative leave and his police powers were suspended, Connecticut state police said in a statement emailed to Daily Kos. Inspector General Robert Devli Jr. announced on Wednesday that North was released on a $50,000 bond and he is facing a manslaughter charge in the death of Mubarak Soulemane more than two years ago in West Haven on Jan. 15, 2020.
North is expected to appear in Milford Superior Court on May 3. The details of the high-speed chase that ended in Soulemane’s death were spelled out in a 133-page report released by the inspector general's office. But if one thing is clear in this case, it is that Soulemane’s death is not only on the hands of North. This Black man’s death is further evidence of a systematic failure leaving those who suffer mental health crises vulnerable.
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Let’s start with the events that immediately led up to Soulemane’s death.
The inspector general’s office reported a dispute at an AT&T store. Soulemane had reportedly accused a clerk at the store of disabling his phone after a worker told him that he would need a $548 deposit to purchase the iPhone 11 he inquired about. The clerk noticed that Soulemane was holding a knife, although he did not point it at her, according to the investigation report. He was then accused of attempting to steal an iPhone 11, but a store manager reportedly grabbed the phone and escorted Soulemane out of the store, which also called 911.
The inspector general’s office determined that Soulemane took a car from a Lyft driver scheduled to pick him up from the store. That driver, Daniel Green, drove a 2012 Hyundai Sonata, and investigators determined that when Green picked Soulemane up, he asked for the driver’s phone. When Green refused to turn it over, Soulemane allegedly slapped the man in the head. Green reportedly pulled into a gas station, saw police approaching, and tried to get their attention. Investigators wrote in their report that “Soulemane quickly moved into the driver’s seat,” and “Norwalk police pursued.”
Warning: The videos in this story contain body camera footage of the police shooting that may be triggering for viewers.
An officer could be heard on police audio trying to get authorization to chase the vehicle, but a state police representative initially told Norwalk police that a "no pursuit policy" regarding stolen vehicles prevented state police from authorizing a chase. The Norwalk officer said this wasn’t just a case of a stolen vehicle. Soulemane had "displayed a knife" and "was threatening" inside of an AT&T store before he "either got into a vehicle with a cohort or carjacked somebody and took their car," the officer said in statements CBS-affiliated WFSB reported.
State police didn’t authorize the chase until a witness observed Soulemane driving 100 mph and called 911 to report that he was driving dangerously. During the chase that followed, Soulemane hit North’s vehicle and another vehicle before officers were able to block Soulemane’s car in, North’s body camera video showed.
Investigators determined that Soulemane did have a knife with him when troopers blocked in the Sonata but when North fired his weapon, neither he “nor any other person was in imminent danger of serious injury or death from a knife attack at the hands of Soulemane."
Executive Director of the Connecticut State Police Union Andrew Matthews said during a news conference that he’s disappointed with the inspector general’s report.
“When a trooper or a police officer in Connecticut or anywhere in the country is forced to make a split-second decision that others can analyze and reanalyze and find subject matter experts that give different opinions and that one individual person appointed by the legislature can make a decision on whether a police officer should be prosecuted criminally for that, that’s concerning to us,” Matthews said, “but that’s the process and we’ll respect it.”
Mark Arons, Soulemane's family attorney, said in a statement Atlanta Black Star obtained that the family is happy with the decision to arrest North. “It’s a long road ahead. But this is a good day," the attorney said. He called Soulemane's death "yet another horrendous act of violence against a young man of color that was totally unnecessary.” It was a sentiment Rev. Al Sharpton also expressed at Soulemane's memorial, when the civil rights activist said something didn't “smell right" about the information officials were presenting as facts.
"You don’t have a right to take away his life, and if you do, we have an obligation to stand up and question what happened,” Sharpton said in remarks the New Haven Register reported.
Omo Mohammed, Soulemane’s mother, said during a CBS New York interview that she would like to see North “held accountable” for killing her son, who was dealing with mental health issues.
Investigators wrote in their report:
As part of their investigation, Division of Criminal Justice (DCJ) Inspectors interviewed Omo Mohammed, mother of Mubarak Soulemane. She stated that Soulemane was diagnosed with schizophrenia at age fourteen. He took medicine morning and night for this condition. He regularly saw doctors at Yale. At some point, a nurse would come daily to their home to administer his medicine.
Mohammed could not recall the names of Soulemane’s doctors nor the names of the medications that he was supposed to take. She stated that if he did not take his medication, he would become combative and scream, but would not become physical. He would just yell and become argumentative. Omo Mohammed further stated that she never knew Soulemane to carry weapons and she could remember no instance where he had a weapon. On January 15, 2020, Omo Mohammed was out of the country. She believed, however, that Mubarak was not taking his medication because her other son, Saeed, called her and told her that they had gotten into an argument.
His sister, Mariyann, told the journalism nonprofit the Connecticut Mirror in 2020 that “it was a constant battle: Mubarak versus schizophrenia.”
“State police should have been notified,” she said, “‘This is a missing person with underlying mental health issues,’ so they can then know how to proceed.”
Soulemane’s death is illuminating an overarching issue of how resources should be used to respond to mental health crises.
Connecticut Mirror Reporter Kelan Lyons said Soulemane's family had spent a lot of time calling local police to respond when Soulemane left home in mental health crises. The New Haven Police Department would routinely pick him up and take him to a psychiatric emergency department, but Soulemane wasn’t in New Haven at the time of his death. His death isn’t simply indicative of what journalist John Dankosky called a “patchwork” of local police forces rendering neighboring authorities ignorant of the mental health histories long documented in other areas. It also goes beyond the thought process that police just need better training to deal with those who are experiencing mental health crises, Lyons said.
"Having somebody show up in a police officer's uniform who is armed can escalate a situation or it can re-traumatize somebody who has been traumatized because of gun violence in the past or has had a poor interaction with police officers in the past,” Lyons said. “It really questions whether there is a space for them to respond to these crises or whether or not we should be taking money from departments and investing it into community mental health resources.”
Lorenzo Boyd, a former sheriff’s deputy and director of the Center of Advanced Policing at the University of New Haven, told Lyons: “The police know how to do two things really well: detain and use force. So that’s the prism through which they view all the problems they deal with: can we arrest, or can we detain?”