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Police chief meets with family of boy shot by officers

(Scott G Winterton/Deseret News)


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SALT LAKE CITY — Salt Lake City interim Police Chief Mike Brown met with the family of a 17-year-old boy shot by his officers over the weekend, and shared hugs and tears with them.

"I told this mother we were sorry and asked how we can come together to heal and mend this community," he said.

But apologizing for the shooting does not mean he is passing judgment on whether he believes his officers were justified in using deadly force.

"There is no shame in going to a mother and saying 'sorry,' right, wrong or indifferent," Brown said.

The chief's meeting with the family Sunday came a day after Abdullahi Mohamed, 17, was shot by two Salt Lake officers while he was allegedly holding a 3-foot object, possibly a mop or broom handle made of light metal, according to witnesses.

Abdullahi was one of two people allegedly beating a third man on Rio Grande Street near the homeless shelter, when two officers, who were in the area on an unrelated call, saw what was happening and ordered them to stop. One man complied and dropped his weapon, according to Salt Lake police. "The other continued to advance on the victim and was shot by officers," police said in a prepared statement.

Witnesses have stated that three to four shots were fired, striking Abdullahi in the chest and stomach. The man who was allegedly being beaten with the metal object did not have injuries that required him to be taken to the hospital, according to police.

On Monday, Brown released little information regarding the shooting, citing several ongoing investigations into the incident. The police department, as of Monday, still had not publicly acknowledged the boy's name. Brown also could not provide any additional updates on the teenager's condition. He remained hospitalized Monday. His condition was reported as critical on Sunday.

Brown said he had seen the video recorded by the officers' body cameras that night, but he declined to comment on whether he believes the shooting was justified. He also did not give any information regarding the officers, including their names or how many years they have been with the department.

The interim chief hosted a roundtable discussion Monday, inviting members of the media to sit down and talk for about 50 minutes. He asked that the discussion not be recorded, though he allowed reporters to take notes and agreed to recorded interviews afterward. He was joined by David Parker, the chairman of the newly formed 12-member Citizen Advisory Board.

The board was created to improve communications between the department and community. Despite the advancements in police tools over the years that help officers do their jobs better, trust in the community has remained flat, Brown said.

As for the shooting, Brown called it an "extremely tragic incident" that has torn the "fabric of this community."

"Relationships are tense," he said.

At 5 p.m. Sunday, Brown accompanied Abdullahi's mother and a friend to the hospital to see her son.

"There wasn't a dry eye in the room," he said. "To see a mother reach out and hold her son's hand was touching to say the least."

Salt Lake Mayor Jackie Biskupski provided additional details of the meeting, saying, "The mother was talking to him. They brought him out of the state he was in so he knew."

Brown said he then asked if he could go to the family's house and visit them. The mother agreed. Brown said he and Parker, with the help of an interpreter, "expressed sadness for the incident" and talked about where the department needed to go to help the community heal. Brown said the family was appreciative that he would talk with them.

"I really think that visit paid huge dividends to this community," he said. "You could see in people's eyes they were grateful we had taken the time to talk to them."

Biskupski said Monday that she, too, had watched the officers' body camera video of the shooting but would not comment on it.

"Incidents like this are hard, and they create some level of scrutiny and distrust with our law enforcement. And what I've made clear to Chief Brown … is I want to see more training with de-escalation tactics whenever possible."

Brown said he met with the mayor for four to five hours on Sunday, as well as members of some of the local advocacy groups. In the coming weeks, Brown said his office will be looking at whether they are taking the right steps in de-escalating training.

"Can we do better? I think we can. Should we do better? We can, and we will," he said.

The police department needs to be the guardians of the community, not the warriors of the community, the interim chief said.

Biskupski acknowledged on Monday that "Salt Lake officials are reaching out to the community in ways that we never have before. This is a tragedy for everyone involved and there's a great deal of effort being made to recognize that. Moving forward, we can become better at what we do and focus on some things and learn. I think that's really important."

She said she is also working to obtain independent counsel for the citizen's review panel, which would require City Council approval. Biskupski also said she is "confident" in the police department and in the ongoing investigations.

"For the time being, it is important to give law enforcement and the Salt Lake County District Attorney's Office time to do the work they're doing. I have full confidence in the Unified Police Department to manage this investigation very well," she said.

Monday afternoon, the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah also called for "a full investigation," urging the mayor and chief "to act swiftly, openly and objectively in gathering all of the facts behind this most recent officer-involved incident. We hope that Abdi and his family will be treated fairly and compassionately as all the facts of this incident are sorted out," the ACLU stated.

"If the SLCPD finds the shooting justified, the public deserves to know exactly why, so we can understand whether the policies on use of force match the public's expectations and whether the process for investigation and accountability is working. If the (district attorney) finds the shooting not justified, the public deserves to know how the SLCPD will ensure that this doesn't happen again."

As for the unrest by some bystanders after the shooting, Brown said rocks and bottles were thrown at police officers, but it would be wrong to label the incident a "riot."

"That four letter word conveys something to people that just didn't happen," Parker said.

There was no property damage, no one was injured, and the incident was over in 10 minutes, he said.

Abdullahi has an extensive criminal history in juvenile court. Family members acknowledged that he has had problems in the past while hanging out with "the wrong people" but said he was trying to change.

Abdullahi was referred to juvenile court 10 times for four felonies and eight misdemeanors or infractions since 2011, according to 3rd District Juvenile Court records. Three of those felonies and seven misdemeanors were allegedly committed while Abdullahi was already on probation. He has spent a total of 122 days in a detention facility as of Monday.

In 2011, Abdullahi was charged in juvenile court with aggravated assault using a weapon, according to court records. Four of his next five criminal cases were for theft. In 2014, he was charged with using a dangerous weapon. He was again charged with felony theft in September in two cases. He was in juvenile court for one of those charges just four days before the shooting.

Contributing: Marjorie Cortez, Sandra Yi, Nicole Vowell

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