Critics decry cops for not releasing shooting video
Salt Lake City — Police refused to release body camera footage or details about what led officers to shoot and critically wound a 17-year-old Somali refugee in a rough area of Salt Lake City, igniting criticism from civil rights groups and several hundred protesters who want answers.
The city known for its ties to Mormonism has become the latest flashpoint in the national discussion about police use of force, especially with minority victims. Charley Hyde and Kaylee Peterson came to a Monday night rally holding cardboard cutouts in the shapes of guns with the words, “Don’t shoot.”
They said they were fed up with officers’ inability to de-escalate or use non-lethal force.
“They need retraining,” Peterson said. “Whatever happened to Tasers? Whatever happened to rubber bullets? Whatever happened to shooting shots in the sky as a warning?”
Abdi Mohamed, who came to the U.S. with his family in 2004, was shot twice in the torso last weekend when officers intervened as he and another person attacked someone with metal sticks, police said.
Officers told them to drop their weapons, but the teen instead moved menacingly toward the victim, authorities said. Mohamed was in critical condition Monday. The victim of the beating didn’t need medical attention.
Police declined to offer more information and would not release video from the officers’ body cameras, citing the investigation and the possibility the teenager could face charges.
That decision drew criticism from the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which called on police to release the footage to avoid making the same mistake Chicago police made in waiting more than a year to release video of a black teenager shot 16 times by an officer.
Spokesman Ibrahim Hooper has not been able to talk to Mohamed’s family but has been told they are Muslim.
At the rally, Nacom Koffi was one of many who chanted “Black lives matter” and speculated that Mohamed’s race played a factor in the shooting. Koffi, a black man from West Africa, joined the chorus of calls for police to release the footage.
“Why are police wearing video and we can’t see it?” Koffi said. “If they’re right, let’s see it.”
The shooting stirred unrest Saturday in the city’s bustling downtown, where about 100 officers in riot gear barricaded four city blocks and closed a light rail stop as bystanders threw rocks and bottles.
The street where the shooting happened is known for drug deals, violence and overdoses, employees at a nearby business said. A makeshift memorial has emerged there, with roses, candles and a beer can.
The city’s primary homeless shelter is in the area, less than a mile from an outdoor mall and the arena where the Utah Jazz play. At the NBA game Saturday, officials told fans not to drive in the area.
Anna Brower, spokeswoman for the ACLU of Utah, said the response by police in riot gear raises questions not only about the incident but the larger issue of whether heavy mobilization is the best way to handle high-crime areas like this one.
Her organization is calling for city leaders to ensure a complete investigation is done and that the Mohamed’s family is treated fairly and compassionately.
The worst of the protest was over in about 10 minutes, interim Salt Lake City Police Chief Mike Brown said. His eyes filled with tears as he described meeting with the teen’s mother and sitting with her in the hospital.
Bystander Selam Mohammad told The Salt Lake Tribune and Deseret News that he was a friend of the teenager, who was shot as he turned to face police. Police said they could not confirm or deny that account.
The union representing the officers said they were stopping a beating.
“This case is not about race, they acted in defense of an innocent party,” Salt Lake Police Association president Michael Millard in a statement.
Utah law allows the use of deadly force when people, including officers, fear someone who could badly hurt or kill them. But new police training standards tell officers to back off and take cover so they won’t need to shoot, the chief said.
Abdi Mohamed’s family fled Somalia and lived in Kenya before coming to the U.S. when he was young, said Aden Batar of Catholic Community Services.