HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — African American pastors called on federal prosecutors Friday to investigate the fatal shooting of a 19-year-old carjacking suspect by a Connecticut state trooper following a high-speed chase.
The New Haven-area pastors said they were not confident the state could impartially investigate itself in connection with the death of Mubarak Soulemane, a young black man who was shot Wednesday night by Trooper Brian North in West Haven. State police said North opened fire when Soulemane “displayed” a knife.
State police initially identified him as Soulemane Murbarak, and then corrected themselves Friday afternoon.
The New London state’s attorney office is investigating whether the shooting was justified, based on evidence being collected by state police.
“How can the state police police its own self?” asked the Rev. Boise Kimber, of the First Calvary Baptist Church in New Haven.
The U.S. attorney’s office in New Haven said that it had not yet received a request to investigate or assist in the investigation.
“We understand that the state is following its statutory protocol to investigate an officer-involved death,” the statement said.
Several pastors and relatives of Soulemane held a news conference Friday. They said Soulemane was a community college student who had mental health problems but no criminal record.
State court records show he had two pending criminal cases — one an arrest by University of Connecticut police on charges of driving with a suspended license and failing to obey a stop sign, and another in which the charges are sealed from public view.
They questioned why North had to shoot Soulemane when police armed with guns had him surrounded and he had only a knife. Two other troopers were at the scene but did not open fire.
North was placed on administrative duties pending the investigation, under normal protocols for trooper-involved shootings. State police did not disclose his race.
The pastors also questioned why state police chased Soulemane after Norwalk police had earlier stopped chasing him for safety reasons.
Also Friday, James Rovella, the state public safety commissioner, said state police officials were working on releasing video footage of the chase and shooting from troopers’ body and dash cameras within the 96 hours required by a new state law when deadly force is used.
State police said Soulemane, of New Haven, tried to steal a cellphone and carjacked a vehicle in Norwalk on Wednesday afternoon. Norwalk police chased the vehicle but broke off the pursuit for safety reasons, local officials said.
The car was spotted on Interstate 95 north driving recklessly and speeding along the median and breakdown lane, and state troopers started to follow, police said.
The vehicle struck two state police cruisers on the highway and a civilian’s vehicle before it was boxed in when it left the interstate in West Haven, police said.
Police used a stun gun on Soulemane as they tried to get him out of the vehicle, but it was ineffective. When Soulemane displayed a knife, one trooper opened fire, state police said. Soulemane was struck and taken to Yale New Haven Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
State police said the fact Soulemane had a knife was a key part of the decision to chase him. A new pursuit policy that took effect in September generally prevents troopers from pursuing stolen vehicles, unless the person being pursued “has committed, is attempting commit or will imminently commit a crime of violence (actual or threatened),” state police said in a statement.
Troopers can also chase suspects if there are “articulable exigent circumstances that warrant the need to apprehend the suspect in a timely manner because of the potential for harm to the public if apprehension does not occur,” state police said.
Melvin Medina, public policy and advocacy director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut, called police chases “a dangerous and deadly pandemic in Connecticut” and questioned whether troopers followed the new chase policy.
“When police choose to chase someone in a car, they are escalating a situation and endangering the lives of police, pedestrians, and all motorists on that road,” he said.