MANHATTAN (CN) – A federal jury deliberated for just a few hours Tuesday before hitting the New York City Police Department with a more than $2 million judgment for fatally shooting Guinean immigrant Mohamed Bah.
“I know that I can have the victory but I cannot have my son again back,” Bah’s mother, Hawa, told reporters on Tuesday.
More than five years have passed since 28-year-old Bah died in a hail of eight police bullets, sparking protests over the department’s interactions with Muslim men and those suffering from mental illness.
“At least for this day, it will at least open everybody’s eyes, to make sure that they change these rules and regulations why they can’t just kill black and brown people for no reason,” Bah’s mother, Hawa, told reporters this afternoon, struggling to communicate through the emotions of the day and her Guinean accent.
Before taking on the mantle of advocating for NYPD reform, it was Hawa who placed the 911 call reporting her son’s mental health crisis that sent police to his apartment on Sept. 25, 2012.
She said that she had wanted medical assistance for her son’s clinical depression, not police intervention, before tragedy unfolded.
NYPD Detective Edwin Mateo and others claimed to have been acting in self-defense when they arrived at Bah’s Bronx apartment to find him naked and wildly lunging at them with a knife.
The civil-rights trial took more than half a decade to kick off, but it reached a prompt resolution. The jury took mere hours to return a verdict Tuesday after roughly two weeks of trial.
While finding the city liable to the tune of $2.215 million, the jurors also determined that Bah had been carrying a weapon at the time of his death — a point disputed by the 28-year-old’s family.
According to the family, the shooting arose from a combination of negligence and mistake: Detective Mateo’s colleagues accidentally shot him with a stun gun, a sensation that he confused with being stabbed.
“He’s stabbing me,” Mateo allegedly cried out to the other officers. “Shoot him.”
Tuesday’s verdict says that Bah had not been approaching Mateo at that time, and that Mateo used excessive force to neutralize the perceived threat. The diverse panel of five men and five women cleared his colleagues Andrew Kress, Michael Green and Joseph McCormack of wrongdoing.
The seven-page verdict form also faulted Lt. Michael Licitra for failing to supervise his subordinates.
New York City plans to avoid paying the award by claiming immunity, said Joshua Lax with the city’s law department.
Randolph McLaughlin, an attorney for the Bah family, predicted that the city would lose that battle.
“We have every expectation that this judge will allow this jury’s verdict to stand,” McLaughlin told reporters at a press conference.
U.S. District Judge Kevin Castel urged the parties to avoid potentially lengthy appeals through settlement discussions, a suggestion that McLaughlin told reporters he would consider.
“I’m always optimistic and always willing to have a conversation,” he said. “So far, the city has been hardly willing to have that. Maybe today they’ll change their mind.”
For its part, city attorneys do not appear ready to concede defeat.
“We respect but strongly disagree with the jury’s verdict,” law department spokesman Nick Paolucci said in a statement.
“Our view is that all of the officers involved responded appropriately under the circumstances,” Paolucci continued. “While this incident ended tragically, we believe these officers strictly adhered to established protocols for dealing with emotionally disturbed persons. Ultimately, they were required to make a split-second decision to use lethal force.”
Within weeks of Bah’s shooting, Hurricane Sandy battered the East Coast, and destroyed evidence from the case stored in an NYPD warehouse. Federal and local prosecutors declined to charge the officers for lack of evidence.
Attorney Debra Cohen, a co-counsel for the Bah family, told reporters that the trial demonstrated these offices should have looked harder.
“We’ve said all along that we’ve thought that the investigation that was done in this case both the NYPD and the Manhattan District Attorney’s office was bogus,” Cohen said.
“We’re hoping that the information that we brought out in this litigation and the course of this trial will have them rethink their approach to this case and future police shooting cases,” she continued. “They can no longer sweep information under the rug, because we’ve shown that if you’re persistent, and the families of victims is [sic] persistent, and their lawyers are persistent, we can find where they’ve hidden that evidence.”
Telling reporters “this is not the end,” Hawa Bah told reporters that she would push New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill to “protect communities,” not “just the police, which is acting criminally toward the community.”
“I want to make sure Mohamed’s legacy has the future,” she began, before choking up with emotion.
“I hope no other mom can go through what I do,” she said. “I hope no other future New Yorkers, American, black and brown has the same issue that Mohamed had.”
At her side at the press conference was another bereaved Guinean immigrant Kadiatou Diallo, whose son Amadou Diallo was fatally shot 41 times by NYPD officers in 1999.
Bah’s case rose to national attention more than a year after his death amid the rise of the then-nascent Black Lives Matter movement in 2013.