Salt Lake City Police Department issued a press release Saturday reporting that two officers had shot and wounded a 17-year-old. According to the release, officers saw two males attacking a male victim with metal objects. After ordering them to drop their weapons, one of the attackers complied while the other did not and “continued to advance on the victim” before shooting and badly wounding him.
The teenager who was shot was identified by the local media as Abdi Mohamed, a Somali 17-year-old who came to the U.S. with his family in 2004. He remains in the hospital in critical condition.
Selam Mohammad, 19, who was on the scene, told The Salt Lake Tribune that the shooting victim and a man were in a confrontation, and that the victim was holding part of a broomstick at his side when officers ran up.
“They told him to put it down, once,” Mohammad said, and “started shooting him as soon as he turned around.” Mohammad said the police fired four times and that the teenager was hit in the chest and stomach.
19-year-old Selam Mohammad said he is a friend of Abdi Mohamed, who was in an argument with a homeless man when the police arrived. He was simply holding the handle of a broomstick in his hand, Mohammad said.
We were trying to break it up before the police even came, but the police ran in on foot and pulled their guns out already,” Selam Mohammad said.
“They already had them, like, as soon as he was running he was already grabbing for his gun, not even trying to Tase him or anything… He said ‘drop it’ [then] boom boom!”
ABC News confirms that Abdi Mohamed was hit twice in the torso. The victim of the alleged beating did not need medical attention.
Following the shooting, a crowd gathered and grew hostile to the officers. Some were reported to have thrown rocks and bottles. Then 100 officers from other neighboring departments arrived with batons and riot shields. Officers asked the crowd to evaluate the area to preserve the crime scene and allow emergency medical personnel to pass, however many did not comply. The officers then arrested four people for civil disorder.
Anna Brower, spokeswoman for the ACLU of Utah, said the response by police in riot gear raises real question not only about this incident but the larger issue of whether heavy police 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 during the process.
Both officers involved in the shooting were wearing body-cams which have been Unified Police Department which handles investigations into officer-involved shootings. Utah law requires the video evidence to be withheld from the public as the investigation is ongoing. They have refused to release the footage and claim that Mohamed may also be facing charges for his involvement in the fight.
That decision drew criticism from the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which called on police to release the body camera footage to avoid making the same mistake Chicago police made in waiting more than a year to release footage of a black teenager shot 16 times by a police officer.
“We are committed, to ensuring the Salt Lake City Police Department does business appropriately, in line with the community’s trust and expectations,” said Chief Mike Brown. “Our goal is to always de-escalate any type of volatile situation using the minimal amount of force necessary.”
“The use of force by law enforcement against the public can tear at the delicate balance of trust between both sides, and must be taken extremely seriously,” said Mayor Jackie Biskupski.
On Monday civil rights groups convened in Salt Lake City to demand answers and the release of the body-cam footage. Protestors were seen holding signs that said, “Stop Killer Cops” and were chanting “Black lives matter.”
Charley Hyde and Kaylee Peterson came to the rally holding cardboard cutouts in the shapes of guns with the words, “Don’t shoot.” They said they’re fed up with officer’s inability to deescalate or use non-lethal force.
“They need retraining,” Peterson said. “Whatever happened to Tasers? Whatever to rubber bullets? Whatever happened to shooting shots in the sky as a warning?”
The police union argues that the officers did not shoot because of the race of the victim, but because they were intervening on behalf of the man he was fighting.