Family: Investigation of killing by trooper taking too long
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — A year and a half into the investigation of a police shooting that killed her brother, Mariyann Soulemane says sorrow and frustration loom over her each day.
Mubarak Soulemane was fatally shot in January 2020 following a car chase as he sat in the driver’s seat of a car in West Haven. His relatives and civil rights groups have been calling for months on a state prosecutor to finish the investigation and file criminal charges against Trooper Brian North, who fired seven gunshots at Soulemane.
“I’m fighting through my tears. This is mentally traumatizing,” Mariyann Soulemane said. “It’s traumatic to constantly have to relive what occurred to my brother that day and how the system is proving to not be on our side. I just cannot believe the verdict is taking so long at what should be so obvious, obviously a criminal act.”
The investigation is taking months longer than other probes into fatal shootings by Connecticut officers. Prosecutor-led inquiries into five other fatal shootings by officers in the state between July 2019 and April 2020 ranged from six months in three cases to 11 months and 13 months in the other two. All were ruled justified.
The investigation also involves a rare fatal shooting by a Connecticut state trooper. State police normally collect evidence and interview witnesses in shootings by local police and submit their findings to state prosecutors. In Soulemane’s case, inspectors with the state Division of Criminal Justice — sworn law enforcement officers who work for state prosecutors — are collecting the evidence for Middlesex State’s Attorney Michael Gailor.
Gailor, who is leading the probe into Soulemane’s death, declined to comment on details of the investigation, including why it is taking so long.
“We’ll get it done as quickly as we can,” Gailor said in an interview Tuesday. “As soon as we’re done with the investigation, we’ll get it out there.”
Gailor said he is in regular contact with a lawyer for the Soulemane family to provide updates on the probe.
Scot X. Esdaile, president of the Connecticut chapter of the NAACP, said the investigation should have been completed months ago, given the shooting was recorded by police body cameras that provided clear evidence of what happened. He noted George Floyd was killed by a Minneapolis police officer in May 2020, and the officer — Derek Chauvin — has already been tried, convicted and sentenced.
“The question would be, ‘What’s taking so long?’” Esdaile said. “I know that it has to be grueling to the families.”
Mark Arons, a lawyer representing the Soulemane family, said although relatives are frustrated he would rather see a thorough review than a rushed one.
“It’s a little tricky for the state because I think that they are trying to get the correct decision whether or not to prosecute the trooper and that’s a delicate thing,” Arons said. “If the state’s attorney decides to prosecute a state trooper, of course there’s going to be blowback among the state police. That’s always a problem for these prosecutions, just the politics of it.”
Soulemane’s family, the NAACP and other groups say North, who is white, should not have shot Soulemane, who was Black, because police had boxed in Soulemane and he could not get away. Soulemane had a knife, but police should have attempted to de-escalate the situation, they say.
North did not reply to an email message seeking comment.
State police said Soulemane carjacked a vehicle in Norwalk on Jan. 15, 2020, before leading troopers on a chase on Interstate 95 into West Haven. Officials said Soulemane struck two state police cruisers and a civilian’s vehicle before troopers stopped his vehicle by boxing it in. West Haven police also responded to the scene.
State police body camera videos show a West Haven officer smashing out the passenger door window of the stolen car before another trooper shoots Soulemane with a stun gun, which didn’t work. North then fired his handgun seven times through the driver’s door window when Soulemane displayed the knife, state police said.
Soulemane’s family has said he was a community college student who had schizophrenia.
The NAACP and other groups have protested the shooting. At a memorial service for Soulemane days after his death, the Rev. Al Sharpton said something about the killing didn’t “smell right” and he vowed to fight for answers for the family.
Mariyann Soulemane said she will continue calling for justice for her brother and keeping pressure on officials to complete the investigation and arrest North.
“I feel very defeated, but I just brush myself back up and keep fighting,” she said.