By DAVE COLLINS
MILFORD, Conn. (AP) — A Connecticut state trooper who fatally shot a man following a high-speed chase in 2020 was arraigned Tuesday on a manslaughter charge.
Trooper Brian North said nothing during the brief appearance and did not enter a plea. His case was transferred to a court that handles serious cases, and a new date was set for Jan. 2.
North fired seven gunshots into the driver’s-side window of a stolen car after a chase on Jan. 15, 2020 that ended in West Haven. Mubarak Soulemane, a 19-year-old Black man was killed. An investigation showed Soulemane had a knife but was boxed in by police and unable to drive away.
North, who is white, was arrested last month after state Inspector General Robert Devlin found the shooting was not justified.
About nine relatives and supporters of Soulemane were in the courtroom, including his mother, Omo Mohammed. Following the hearing, they chanted, “Justice for Mubarak” outside the courthouse.
Dozens of police officers, some from as far as Pennsylvania and New Jersey, showed up in plain clothes outside the courthouse before the hearing to show their support for North.
“Regardless of who it is, when our troopers are what believe to be prosecuted for doing their job, we will defend them,” said Andrew Matthews, the executive director of the Connecticut State Police Union.
Soulemane’s family, the NAACP and other groups said North should not have opened fire because police had Soulemane surrounded and he could not get away. They said North and other officers should have tried to deescalate the situation. Soulemane’s mother has a pending wrongful death lawsuit against North and other officers who were at the scene.
A timeline of the events included in Devlin’s report says North began firing about 43 seconds after Soulemane crashed and officers boxed him in. Before the shooting, police body cam videos show a West Haven officer smashing out the passenger door window of the stolen car and another trooper shooting Soulemane with a stun gun, which didn’t work.
The chase, which reached speeds of up to 100 mph (161 kph) on Interstate 95, had begun nearly 30 miles away in Norwalk after Soulemane tried unsuccessfully to steal a cellphone at a store and stole a Lyft driver’s vehicle, police said.
Soulemane’s family said that he had schizophrenia and that his mental health appeared to be deteriorating in the days before the shooting.
The state police union has criticized Devlin’s findings, saying in a statement that North was forced to make a “split-second decision during these dangerous and rapidly evolving circumstances.”
“We believe Trooper North acted objectively reasonable during this violent encounter and we believe a jury will find reasonable doubt and acquit him of these serious charges,” the union said.
North and his lawyer, Jeffrey Ment, have not returned messages seeking comment. North is on paid administrative leave and his police powers are suspended pending the outcome of the criminal case.
North is the third Connecticut police officer to be arrested for fatal shootings dating back to 1998.
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