Soulemane’s family, their attorney and other area civil rights leaders say there are plenty of reasons to rally in West Haven.
Soulemane advocates say West Haven has become the focal point of protests, though he lived in New Haven because: there’s a sentimental feeling because he died there and they believe five or six West Haven police officers who responded to the scene while Soulemane was pinned in his car by police cruisers didn’t do enough to de-escalate the situation before Soulemane was fatally shot by State Trooper Brian North.
Moreover, the Rev. Boise Kimber of First Calvary Baptist Church in New Haven said, George Floyd was killed in Minneapolis, Minnesota, but people were protesting across the country. “It does not matter where Mubarak lived.”
The shooting is under investigation by the state’s attorney’s office and North is on desk duty, but not at his barracks Troop G. State police referred the Register to the state’s attorney’s office, which did not respond to a request for comment.
Who was Mubarak Soulemane?
At a memorial service for Soulemane, he was portrayed by relatives, friends and classmates from Notre Dame of Fairfield as a genuine and compassionate soul who wanted to see others smile.
His mom, Omo Klusum Mohammed, originally from Ghana, told mourners her son was loved by many because “he had such a kind and thoughtful soul.”
He was popular at Notre Dame among peers who filled the service and according to an uncle had a “thirst for knowledge,” a smile that “lit up the room,” and persevered academically, athletically. He graduated with a 3.5 GPA.
But the family is open about Mubarak’s mental health challenges, as he suffered from schizophrenia and was known to local police in Norwalk, West Haven and New Haven, where he lived, not for criminal acts, but for mental health interventions.
Soulemane allegedly stole a car from an individual in Norwalk and fled from police at high at speeds that reached 90 mph along Interstate 95.
His death never should have happened, loved ones have maintained —alleging if not for racism, police lack of understanding of mental health issues and failure of police to de-escalate the scene before it became a shooting.
Legendary civil rights activist the Rev. Al Sharpton attended the service, saying there is no justification to shoot a person without a gun who is pinned in a disabled car surrounded by police.
“If Mubarak committed a crime, he should have been in a courthouse, not in a morgue,” Sharpton said.
Sharpton said that while there’s no way to justify carjacking — the teen’s alleged crime before the chase — it is not up to police to serve as jury and judge.
The Family’s Hope
Mubarak’s sister, Mariyann Soulemane, 23, said that through protests run by their “Justice for Mubarak” group the family and friends are seeking justice in his killing. While West Haven has been the scene of several gatherings — and there will be more — Mariyann Soulemane said they will on the advice of Soulemane family attorney, Mark Arons discuss protesting at Troop G in Bridgeport, where North was stationed.
Policing experts say it’s not an ideal location because there is not enough “community” by the barracks for drawing people.
“We want them (all the police involved) to be held accountable,” Mariyann Soulemane said. “We believe they should have done more to de-escalate.”
She said her brother had a “pocket knife” to a gun and at the same time was having a “break” in his challenged mental health.
“Just imagine someone in that situation…they shot him 7 times like an animal,” Mariyann Soulemane said. “Shooting seven times? What kind of military tactic is that? You’re not on a battlefield.’’
Mariyann Soulemane said she believes her brother would be alive today if not for the color of his skin.
“Definitely there’s a racial correlation,” she alleged. “Our black skin is immediately a threat. With that psyche there’s racial bias.”
She said the demonstrations are making a difference.
“I think we’re making noise where noise is necessary,” she said.She said the family wants North jailed.
They have held three protests in West Haven, a vigil and a birthday party for Mubarak, who would have turned 20, as well as protests in New Haven, Bridgeport, Norwalk and Hamden.
Kalfani Ture’, assistant professor of criminal justice at Quinnipiac University and a former police officer in metro Atlanta, said Soulemane’s shooting goes right to the heart of the #BlackLivesMatter movement idea that police departments should be defunded and that money should be put toward social services.
Because of Soulemane’s mental illness, a social worker should have been there as a co-responder to de-escalate, he said.
“Threat perception is shaped through our world views including by race, gender, class, sexuality,” he said. “In a stratified society we give the benefit of the doubt if you’re white, hetero normative, upper middle class, Christian. That’s the privilege of a stratified society.”
Race matters, he said.
And because a “uniform and badge” are “dripping with history,” that likely affected Soulemane’s reactions, he said.
Kimber said protest is an “act of public mourning to detest systematic and various forms of social injustice levied against the community.”
He said the public act can help to eradicate “conduct against humanity and has ability to call to accountability systems that should be accountable to the people.”
“For example the civil rights movement continues to be a sustained effort that is inter-generational,” he said in a email. “With each generation, we are able to accomplish great social progress. And protest has allowed us to become better versions of ourselves.”
The family said Soulemane was having a mental break on Jan. 15 when he went into an AT&T store in Norwalk and showed a kitchen knife with a 3-inch blade when he was denied a phone. He left, approached a Lyft driver with the knife, demanding a phone. The Lyft driver, who had a gun, got out of the car and was holding the gun when police arrived, uncertain if he was the AT &T suspect. Soulemane, meanwhile drove way, Norwalk police declined to chase him, but put a bulletin out to other departments.
North responded to a call from a citizen reporting Soulemane was dangerously speeding and chased him at speeds of up to 95 miles per hour. It’s not clear where the chase began.
Soulemane exited at Interstate 95 at Exit 43, West Haven, hit another car and was immediately blocked in by state police and West Haven cruisers. West Haven was there for back up.
The next 40 or so seconds were caught on a state police dash cam video that is graphic.
North exited the cruiser, pointed the gun at Soulemane, who was behind the driver’s side window, telling him repeatedly to get out of the car.
On the other side, an officer broke the passenger side window with a baton, an officer tasered Soulemane with no obvious result — it’s not clear if the taser worked. Seconds later a West Haven officer said “He’s reaching” referring to Soulemane reaching into his waistband, according to Arons, who said that information is contained in a police report he obtained. North then shot Soulemane seven times.
Arons said once Mubarak Soulemane was contained, and posed no threat, the guns should have been lowered before anything else occurred and they should have tried something else such as tear gas or mace, .
“Instead of yelling “he’s reaching” (which is what the police report states he did in fact yell) he should’ve said “back up, back up,”. Then say he was reaching,” Arons wrote in an email “Take the time to figure out what’s happening rather than shoot… Regardless, there was no need for guns drawn in the first place.”
He maintained such quick use of deadly force shows a lack of training.
The Rev. Boise Kimber of First Calvary Baptist Church in New Haven, made a public call Friday for Police Chief Joseph Perno to step down because of his department’s handling of a protest July 5 in which a car drove through protesters gathered in the street and because police dogs were brought in to the protest.
“This is not the 60s, this is not Birmingham, Alabama,” Kimber said. “They are saying, ‘This is our city, we’re not going to tolerate protesters blocking streets and you’re going to be orderly in this town.”
Police Commission Chairman Raymond Collins III has said police are investigating the case of a car driving through the crowd. It is illegal for protesters to block a road, but police experts say officers have discretion in that arena. A driver can only be charged if they hit a person, experts say. Some protesters claim they were struck by the car.
City officials did not respond to a request for comment on Kimber’s demand. Perno also did not respond to a request for comment on Kimber’s statement.
But in a Facebook post release the day after the July 5 protest, Perno wrote that a “peaceful rally was held on the West Haven city green with a march to the police station,” and “The majority of the demonstrators conducted themselves respectfully and peacefully.”
Perno wrote that the police department’s “primary function during events such as this is the safety of the demonstrators as well as the general public.”
He wrote that after the rally there was an incident at the intersection of Main Street and Kelsey Avenue, but said he would not elaborate because there is an ongoing investigation.
That is the location, demonstrators allege, where a motorist drove through protesters in the street.
“However, I will say that peaceful demonstrations are a freedom enjoyed in our country. Those that choose to be disruptive to the demonstrators or the general public will be dealt with accordingly,” Perno wrote.
City Attorney Lee Tiernan, in response to request earlier in the week for comment on the reasons West Haven has been a targeted locale for protests, said, in part, in an emailed response that there was not a lot he could say, due to legal constraints.
“As to the specific case of the tragic death of Mubarak Soulemane, my concern as Corporation Counsel for the City of West Haven and as an officer of the court, is that if this is eventually a filed case in a court of law I do not want to prejudice the jury,” Lee said in the email.
“I won’t get into specifics, but if is sufficient to say concerning the present available information, no member of law enforcement in West Haven is legally liable for the death of any individual who may have been killed by State Police within the City limits of West Haven,” Tiernan wrote.
He added: “However, there have been some reports concerning the late Mr. Soulemane’s “mental health struggles for years.”
Tiernan wrote that West Haven was the second police department in the state to create a Crisis Intervention Team, or CIT
“About half the department is trained in CIT and the department partners with area mental health professionals. To trigger a CIT response, the officers have to be alerted of some mental health issue,” Tiernan said.
“Expanding CIT to more preventative areas, education (in addition to the reactive response) could improve law enforcement response, reduce law enforcement violent outcomes and frankly would probably save money in the long run,” Tiernan wrote. “This issue seems completely lost in the current dialogue and that is unfortunate and is possibly a missed opportunity.”
New Haven civil rights leaders working on justice for Soulemane have met with city officials in the past, the mayor and police chief, over issues such as a lack of body cameras for police. Early on Perno and Mayor Nancy Rossi have expressed condolences to the family for their loss. Rossi also spoke publicly to a rally in June.
Kimber said he has sought police records related to the case months ago through a Freedom of Information Request and has yet to receive them.
A video in West Haven
Experts say no one can judge the shooting accurately by reading only portions of the investigation or by watching a dash cam video because there’s no context.
Policing expert John DeCarlo said watching a 40 second video of the shooting is like, “watching a baseball game through a keyhole.”
“We can’t make any assumptions about what happens,” said DeCarlo, a retired police chief and associate professor and director of the master’s program in criminal justice at the Henry C. Lee School of Criminal Justice and Forensic Sciences, University of New Haven. “When you look at the video there is more to look at that we don’t know,” and it needs context, and police testimony in reports.
DeCarlo said one has to consider that Arons’ opinions are that of a lawyer who will likely file a lawsuit in hopes of making a lot of money.
Arons said he will file a lawsuit after the investigation is completed. There are no appeals of the finding, but there is monetary recourse, he said.
DeCarlo said most police work is improvisational so there exists a doctrine of qualified immunity, which takes intent into account.
“I’ve never, ever met a cop who wanted to shoot someone,” he said. “We’ve spent careers avoiding that. It’s a tough situation because you’ve taken a life.”
He said police departments don’t need less funding to make policing better, but rather they need more money for training.
DeCarlo also said he thinks the use of police dogs at Sunday’s protest was a not a good move because dogs aren’t intended for use for crowd control.
Ture’, of Quinnipiac University, who is familiar with the video of Soulemane’s shooting, said if it was only a knife involved — as is the case — then he watched a young man who needed help being killed by police.
“The vehicle was pinned,” he said.