District Attorney releases San Diego police shooting video

This story was updated Tuesday, Dec. 22 at 6 p.m.

A security camera video of a San Diego police officer shooting and killing an unarmed man released Tuesday shows the man crossing an alley toward the officer’s patrol car, then the officer firing a single shot and the man falling to the ground.

District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis showed the video at a news conference and released copies of the video to the media. She also showed other videos and still frames, including footage from a responding officer’s body worn camera.

inewsource was one of five media organizations that went to federal court, seeking release of the video of the shooting. Their attorney argued the video was “one neutral view of what happened that night, and the public is entitled to see it.”

Fridoon Rawshan Nehad, 42, was shot and killed on April 30 by San Diego police officer Neal Browder outside Hi-Lite Bookstore, an adult bookstore in the Midway District. While a 911 call reported a man near the bookstore was threatening people with a knife, Nehad was not armed. He was carrying a pen, which Browder mistook as a knife.

The pen could only be faintly seen in the surveillance video. Dumanis also showed a photo of the pen, which was blue with a silver tip. She showed a video of Nehad twirling the pen, which Dumanis said was similar in style to how someone might twirl a butterfly knife.

The district attorney then showed an unrelated video of an unknown person twirling a butterfly knife to demonstrate the similarities to what Nehad was doing. However, the knife in the video was much larger than a pen, and the man in the video twirled it in front of his body in larger movements, not in a lowered hand as the video of Nehad showed.

KPBS and inewsource joined three other media organizations that went to federal court seeking release of the video of the shooting. Their attorney argued the video was “one neutral view of what happened that night, and the public is entitled to see it.”

A ruling from a U.S. District Court judge allowing the release of a surveillance video that captured a police officer shooting an unarmed man in the Midway District in April 2015.

Last week, a U.S. District Court judge ruled the video of the shooting could be released in response to a lawsuit brought by KPBS and four other local media outlets. The family of the victim obtained the video in their own federal lawsuit and said they would be willing to release it.

The judge gave until Wednesday at midnight for that ruling to be appealed. Dumanis said Tuesday that neither the city nor Browder would appeal the release.

In November, the district attorney announced no charges would be filed against Browder over the shooting. She said after that decision was made, her office still did not immediately release the video because of an ongoing investigation into the shooting by the FBI.

Dumanis did not wait for the family to release the video themselves. She said she did not communicate with the family on Tuesday before releasing the video and said she did not wait because “it should be released in a responsible way.”

“The video in and of itself does not tell a complete story,” she said, which is why she also showed other surveillance videos, footage from the body camera and still photos.

Skip Miller, an attorney for Nehad’s family, said the family was “surprised and puzzled” by Dumanis’ decision to release the videos and by her comments.

“The DA went out of her way to justify her decision not to prosecute the officer,” Miller said. “She made the wrong decision and now she’s going overboard to try to explain it and justify it.”

Miller said Nehad’s family wants Browder “taken off the street.”

“They want him retrained,” he said. “They frankly want him prosecuted.”

Miller said they plan to release more evidence from the family’s civil case on Wednesday, including the statement of Browder taken after the shooting.

The video of the shooting was just a minute long, and from a security camera mounted on a nearby building. It showed Nehad walk toward Browder’s patrol car, which had its headlights on but not its flashing lights. Then Browder fires on Nehad, who falls to the ground and kicks his legs in the air. Browder runs to Nehad and kneels over him.

Footage from the body camera of another responding officer shows Browder shouting that he needs gauze as he helps Nehad. Dumanis said Browder also used his finger to attempt to plug the bullet hole in Nehad’s chest.

Surveillance video from inside the adult bookstore before Nehad was shot shows him walk up to the cashier and gesture with his arm. Dumanis said the cashier believed Nehad had a knife.

The district attorney also showed surveillance video showing what she said was Nehad hiding a knife sheath in between a stack of sandbags outside the bookstore. She then showed a photo of the knife sheath she said Nehad hid there.

She also showed a video of Nehad walking up to a bouncer at a nearby nightclub. Dumanis said Nehad pulled what looked like the tip of a knife from his pocket and pointed to it, but from the surveillance video it was unclear what was actually in Nehad’s pocket.

Three San Diego civil rights attorneys asked to view the video by inewsource and media partner KPBS said the shooting did not appear to be justified.

Joseph Dicks, a lawyer with Dicks & Workman Attorneys at Law, who was not involved with the case, said Dumanis’ decision to release the video before the family could was likely “entirely motivated by public relations.”

“You want to control the message,” he said. “To preempt a grieving family is calculated.”

Victor Manuel Torres, a criminal defense attorney, said he was puzzled by what the video depicts.

“I did not see any threat that would justify the use of deadly force,” Torres said. “There’s just no threat there.”

Dicks said that without audio on the video, he couldn’t tell what commands Browder made. Dumanis said in her news conference that witnesses said they believed they heard Browder tell Nehad to drop his knife.

“A man with knife at 10 feet is not to be taken lightly,” Dicks said, but added Browder could have used less lethal force.

Civil rights and police misconduct attorney Jerry Steering said the video did not look good for Browder.

“I don’t know why they shot him,” he said.

Nehad was diagnosed with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, according to his family’s lawsuit against the city. He was born and grew up in Afghanistan and was drafted into the Afghan army as a teenager, according to the lawsuit.

“While serving, he was captured by one of the Mujahideen groups,” the court filing says. “He spent nearly two months in captivity and was only released after his mother met face-to-face with the kidnappers and pleaded for the release of her son.”

The filing said Nehad “likely was tortured” and suffered from PTSD after his kidnapping. He followed his parents to the United States in 2003 and went to jail for burglary in 2008. His mother, a U.S. citizen, filed a restraining order against him shortly before he was killed, because police told her it would help him get into a shelter, according to the lawsuit.

Dumanis said an estimated 50 percent of people shot by the police in the United States are mentally ill.

“We are also hopeful that part of the discussion generated by the release of these videos will be about how to better help the homeless who suffer from mental illness in San Diego County,” she said.

Nehad’s family told the online news site Voice of San Diego that Nehad was not homeless, but liked to wander the streets at night.

While Officer Browder was wearing a body camera during his encounter with Nehad, he did not turn it on. After the shooting, the police department changed its body camera policy to require officers “to start recording prior to their arrival on radio calls that are likely to result in an enforcement contact.” Previously, they had to begin recording just before making contact with a citizen.

San Diego Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman has said repeatedly she does not plan to make body camera video public except in a “riot type situation,” where public safety is at risk because of an uproar over a police shooting. She has been criticized for that stance, which is much stricter than in other large cities.

In a statement after the video’s release on Tuesday, Zimmerman said, she respects the judge’s decision to allow the video to be released.

“The judge had to balance the importance of due process rights with the need for public disclosure while, at the same time, protecting the integrity of the investigations,” the statement said. “Although the state criminal review has been completed, this case is still under review by the FBI, our Internal Affairs Unit, and will ultimately be reviewed by our independent Citizen’s Review Board on Police Practices.”

Dumanis said on Tuesday that she had communicated with the police department before releasing the video to help officers prepare for potential protests in response.

“I’m aware they are aware of this and are making efforts to do whatever they think is necessary,” she said.

Dumanis said she and other law enforcement officials were convening a working group to decide whether police body camera footage should be released in the future.

“I’ve never held a news conference like this before. I’ve not provided video like this to the media,” she said.

She said she does not believe videos like this one should be released, but “I recognize that times have changed.”

“The constitutional rights of defendants must be protected and all law enforcement wants to be part of the solution to balance those rights with the public’s desire to view this kind of video,” she said.

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