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Group Investigating Police Shooting Of Mentally-Ill Woman

Group Investigating Police Shooting Of Mentally-Ill Woman

Shukri Ali Said woke up around 6 a.m. Saturday, April 28 hearing voices in her head, and told her live-in sister she needed to leave the house. The 36-year-old woman’s sister tried to get her to stay home, but Said grabbed a knife and left the house on foot.

Her sister called 9-1-1, believing police and emergency medical personnel would give Said the help she needed to remove the fogginess of her mental breakdown. What she didn’t expect is that she and her family members would be burying their loved one a day after they called Johns Creek police for help.

These are the circumstances the family of Shukri Said are struggling to cope with after their family member was shot and killed Saturday morning by two Johns Creek officers near Northview High School. CAIR-Georgia, a Muslim civil liberties and advocacy organization, is leading the charge to help Said’s family learn more about the incident that led to the woman’s untimely death and to determine if her civil rights were violated by officers.

CAIR-Georgia held a press conference on Monday to share more details about the officer-involved shooting that’s now under investigation by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. Edward Ahmed Mitchell, executive director of CAIR-Georgia, said the family has found some comfort in that Said, a Somali-born American who moved to Johns Creek with her family from California in July 2016, is now “at peace with God.” However the family will not be satisfied until they find out what happened in the moments before Said was shot.

Mitchell states the family called 9-1-1 for “help” because Said, who has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, was experiencing delusions and hearing voices. While living in California, Mitchell said the family would call emergency first responders any time Said was having a crisis and she would be taken to a hospital or a clinic for treatment. When the called 9-1-1 Saturday morning, they expected something similar to happen in Johns Creek. However, Mitchell said the family was “mortified” to learn Said would not be coming home again.

Mitchell reiterated that the organization is not prejudging the officers for what happened, but they are determined to get to the bottom of what led those same officers to shoot a woman who was only 5’5′ tall and weighed less than 150 pounds.

Johns Creek police previously told Patch officers were dispatched to a call around 7 a.m. of a person armed with a knife in the 300 block of Winherst Lane. According to the GBI, Said allegedly threatened to kill a family member and was later found near the intersection of Abbotts Bridge and Sweet Creek roads.

The officers tried to de-escalate the situation by using rubber bullets and a taser, but were unsuccessful, the GBI added. Law enforcement contends Said refused to drop the knife, and was later shot by two Johns Creek officers. She was transported to Emory Johns Creek Hospital where she was pronounced dead. The two officers involved in the shooting have been placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation, Johns Creek police spokesperson Capt. Chris Byers added.

Mitchell added there are a few details about Saturday’s events that concern his organization. He said the family told 9-1-1 dispatchers, ambulance personnel and Johns Creek officers that Said was mentally ill, which “should dictate how they address and deal with that person.” The organization wants to know what training and techniques Johns Creek officers were given and what their actions were once they arrived on the scene. They are also asking the Johns Creek Police Department if there’s any dash cam or body camera footage available for the family to view and how many times Said was shot.

Mitchell did say the GBI noted there were five shell casings found at the scene, but it’s unclear if one officer fired four rounds and the other fired only one, for example.

“This family needs answers,” he said. “They cannot rest comfortably until they know what happened to Shukri.”

Said and her family, who attorney Ibrahim Awad of The Awad Law Firm said are “legal U.S. citizens,” originally emigrated from Somalia to California. The family has spent the last three decades caring for Said, who was recently prescribed an antipsychotic medication by a doctor in Johns Creek. While in California, the family would call a crisis center when Said had a breakdown, and emergency personnel would respond and take the woman to a psychiatric facility for evaluation. The family would be told how long Said would be required to say as a patient and when it would be safe for her to return home.

They expected the same thing to happen Saturday, which is why the family made sure the ambulance driver, police and fire crews knew Said was armed with a knife, had come off her medication and was in need of help, Awad added. After Said left the house, another sister who lives next door began to follow her in her vehicle. The sister saw Said on Windherst Lane and an officer in a Johns Creek patrol vehicle. The sister identified Said as her sister, and the officer begins to follow the woman towards Sweet Creek Road.

By that moment, three additional patrol vehicles, the ambulance and two fire trucks have arrived at the scene, so the sister drove back home to check on her sibling who resides with Said. The family waited for about 45 minutes, hoping they will get a call stating that Said has been transported to the ER or a clinic. That call never came, so they returned to the scene and saw police tape had been set up by officers. The family was later told that Said was shot and transported to Emory Johns Creek Hospital. They arrived at the hospital to learn the 36-year-old African-American woman died at the facility. An autopsy was conducted Sunday, and the family laid Said to rest, Awad added.

“Those are the facts we learned from the sisters,” Awad stated.

Awad said police tactics should not include resorting to fatal methods if de-escalation techniques do not work, as people suffering from mental illness do not respond to commands the same way one would expect a person should. He also said it’s unclear whether Said kept the knife at her side or if she ran away from the scene. He did note Said was wearing a “traditional dress” with a headscarf, which could point to her mobility — or lack thereof. The fact remains that officers were informed ahead of time that Said was mentally ill and she had a knife. Given what they know so far, one could infer that she was only posed a danger to herself, Awad added.

The attorney also said the family is reluctant to come forward and talk more about Said, as they are still trying to process the fast-moving turn of events.

“This is very brand new, and I suspect they are very much in denial,” he added, noting Said was a resilient person who fled their small Somali village as refugees with her family. Even though she had a mental illness, Said did not let that stop her from doting on her nieces and nephews.

Mitchell added the family is trying to remain strong. For CAIR, the lawyers on their team are able to process this incident in an academic sense, but they have to remember that “this family loss someone they loved.”

CAIR is calling on Johns Creek police to examine how they train officers to respond to calls concerning individuals with mental illness. This process should be something that starts well before those officers are given their service weapons and placed on the streets to serve and protect the public. The legal aspect of the case, Mitchell added, hinges on what happened in the moments immediately before officers shot Said.

Said wasn’t posing an immediate threat to officers or the public, Mitchell continued, as she was alone on a street and there were no school activities taking place near Northview. He also said he hoped officers didn’t put themselves in a position where they felt threatened by Said and thus made the situation more dangerous. Americans have seen countless situations where people have attacked, fought and threatened officers and “they lived to tell the story.”

“This is what should have happened here,” he said.

Capt. Byers told Patch that Johns Creek police will not be making any statements or releasing additional details from its perspective until the GBI completes its investigation.

Being a black Muslim woman from Somalia, the lawyers also addressed the elephant in the room: whether race, gender or religion played a role in the fatal outcome. Both Awad and Mitchell said it’s unclear whether those two factors, as well as socioeconomic status, played a role in this case, and they do not want to jump to conclusions and paint the officers with a broad brush. However, one could question if Said would have been treated differently if she had blond hair and was wearing pants, Mitchell said.

Implicit bias is a real thing, and law enforcement agencies have to ensure their officers are trained to recognize any stereotypes they may have that could determine how they respond to various incidents, he continued.

While they can’t assume if any racial or religious biases played out on the morning of Saturday, April 28, Mitchell said they do know that Said suffered from a mental illness and should have been given the chance to receive the care she and many like her deserve.

“This does not seem to be about religion or race as (much as) it is about mental health,” Mitchell said.

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