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A San Diego police officer’s killing of an unarmed, mentally ill man in April was unprovoked, according to a sworn statement from someone who has viewed security camera footage of the incident.
On April 30, San Diego police officer Neal Browder shot and killed Fridoon Rawshan Nehad in an alley outside an adult bookstore in the Midway neighborhood. Browder was responding to a 911 call about a man who was threatening people with a knife. Nehad turned out to be unarmed.
Browder failed to turn on his body-worn camera before the incident, prompting Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman to change department policy to ensure cameras are activated prior to officers encountering a potential criminal incident. But a security camera from a nearby boat equipment business captured the shooting.
In a sworn statement filed in federal court, Wesley Doyle, an employee of KECO, said he watched the footage at least 20 times. Doyle said Browder did not have his emergency lights turned on when he arrived, got out of his car and took a relaxed stance toward Nehad. Then, when Nehad was about 15 feet away, Browder raised his weapon and shot Nehad in the chest.
The video, Doyle said in the statement, “was shocking to me and, I believe, to anyone else who sees it. From what I recall, Officer Browder did not make any physical movement in an attempt to communicate with Fridoon, i.e., raise his hand indicating to stop. And Officer Browder did not use any other measures, such as a Taser, against Fridoon. He did not even get into a shooting stance. The shooting appeared to be unprovoked; Officer Browder appeared to shoot Fridoon hastily.”
Doyle said in the statement that Nehad slowed his pace toward Browder before the shooting and that Nehad appeared to come to a complete stop before Browder pulled the trigger. The video did not record any sound.
In an interview with Voice of San Diego, Doyle said that the video shows that the shooting was unjustified.
“When you see the video, it’s obvious he was not doing anything threatening,” Doyle said.
San Diego police have completed their criminal investigation into Nehad’s death and the case is under review by District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis, a DA spokesman said.
The shooting – and the video – were instantly controversial.
The San Diego Police Department has had the security camera footage since the aftermath of the shooting, and has refused to release it publicly despite public records requests, calls for transparency from interest groups and protests. Like body camera footage, the department is treating the security camera video as evidence and reasons it is therefore exempt from disclosure under state law. SDPD didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
“There’s a good reason why they don’t want this video to come out,” Doyle said. “It makes them look really bad.”
Days after first viewing the tape, Doyle said he contacted the offices of Mayor Kevin Faulconer, City Councilwoman Marti Emerald, who leads the Council’s public safety committee, and Rep. Scott Peters to tell them that the video of the shooting was disturbing.
No one called him back, Doyle said, but instead two SDPD homicide detectives visited him unannounced at work to interview him about the tape. Representatives for Faulconer, Emerald and Peters did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Doyle said the detectives were aggressive and intimidating.
“Why are they interviewing a guy who saw a video when they themselves have the video?” Doyle said.
Nehad’s family has filed a wrongful death lawsuit in federal court against the city. In a filing in the case, the city defends Browder’s actions as justified after Nehad threatened Browder with a metallic pen that looked like a knife:
Nehad “emerged from the shadows of an alley near the bookstore and headed directly for Officer Browder; Plaintiffs’ Decedent brandished a metallic pen that appeared to be a knife; by the time Officer Browder was able to react to the actions of Plaintiff’s Decedent by getting out of the car, yelling at Plaintiffs’ Decedent to drop ‘it’ or ‘the knife,’ and drawing his sidearm, Plaintiffs’ Decedent had closed the substantial distance between himself and Officer Browder to between 10 and 15 feet; and immediately upon drawing his sidearm, Officer Browder fired, hitting Plaintiffs’ Decedent once in the chest,” according to the filing.
Doyle’s statement contradicts the city’s version of events in that Doyle says Nehad was moving much slower toward Browder than the city’s account implies – and might have even been stopped completely.
Nehad, who was born in Afghanistan, had a lengthy history of mental illness, including schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, according to the lawsuit. He also suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder from experiences in the Afghan army during that country’s civil war, the lawsuit said.
Nehad, who was 42 at the time of his death, had been jailed for burglary and convicted of battery and petty theft. Immigration officials declined to comment on Nehad’s legal status to NBC San Diego in May, but suggested he was facing deportation. His mother had filed a restraining order against him days before his death. In the lawsuit, Nehad’s family said they believed a restraining order would help Nehad get into a shelter.
Doyle’s statement was filed by attorneys for Nehad’s family in the lawsuit. The security camera video has been sealed as part of the case.