Prosecutor: Police shooting that wounded Utah teen justified

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Posted: Aug 08, 2016 6:08 PM
Prosecutor: Police shooting that wounded Utah teen justified

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Two police officers were justified in shooting and critically wounding a teenage refugee from Somalia in a confrontation that sparked unrest and protests in Salt Lake City earlier this year, a Utah prosecutor decided Monday.

Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill said officers acted appropriately when they fired at Abdullahi "Abdi" Mohamed because police believed he was about to seriously injure or kill a man with a metal broom handle.

The Feb. 27 fight began after a failed drug deal and a dispute over $1.10 near the city's bustling homeless shelter, Gill said at a news conference. The officers yelled multiple times for Mohamed to drop the weapon as he and another man attacked the victim, but he refused, Gill said. They shot him four times.

Mohamed's family has disputed that account. His cousin Muslima Weledi has said that witnesses told her Mohamed had a wooden broomstick and misunderstood the command.

Mohamed, then 17, was hospitalized in a medically induced coma but survived. He turned 18 in April, and his health condition was not known.

The shooting became a flashpoint in the nation's discussion about police use of force against minorities, and public outcry persisted as authorities refused to release video from the officers' body cameras.

Prosecutors still would not release the footage Monday, citing new juvenile charges against Mohamed. He faces counts of aggravated robbery and possessing drugs with an intent to distribute after police said they found methamphetamine in his pocket.

Gill said the public outcry over the shooting was a reason he took more than five months to decide whether it was justified and why he asked an expert on police use of force to review the investigation.

"It's not about making a popular decision," Gill said. "It's about committing yourself to a process that is objective, that is fair, that is accountable. Call it like you see it. It's not about choosing sides."

The decision drew the ire of an anti-police brutality group that called Gill an "enemy of the community" and launched a social media campaign, #GillMustGo. The group planned a protest Tuesday night in Salt Lake City.

Stephen Michael Christian of Utah Against Police Brutality said the group is outraged that Gill cleared the officers but charged Mohamed.

"This contributes to a narrative that black juveniles are somehow more violent than white people of similar ages," Christian said.

The shooting occurred on a winter night while the NBA's Utah Jazz played at a nearby arena. The victim, a man who prosecutors only identified as K.M., had come to the homeless shelter to get food and buy drugs.

When he asked Mohamed for marijuana, Mohamed told the man he only had methamphetamine but demanded the man's money anyway, Gill said.

The man refused and instead handed the teen a metal broom handle, which Mohamed used to hit the man, prosecutors say. Officers spotted the attack, and police body camera footage recorded an officer telling the suspects to drop the metallic poles at least 10 times, Gill said.

Police fired as Mohamed approached the victim and appeared ready to strike him again, the investigation found. The officers' actions may have saved the victim's life, Gill said. He received welts and bruises.

Officers Kory Checketts and Jordan Winegar will be returning to full-time duty in the next few weeks after being on paid administrative leave, authorities said.

Mohamed came to the U.S. with his family in 2004 from a refugee camp in Kenya, Weledi said.

Court records show he started getting in trouble with police at age 12 and spent time in juvenile detention centers for theft, trespassing and assault. The most recent run in before the February shooting came a month earlier, when he was charged with possessing alcohol.

Mohamed is set to appear in court Wednesday on the new charges. His attorney, Alicia Memmott, didn't immediately comment.

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Associated Press writer Michelle Price contributed to this story.