Now it will be for a jury to decide whether state Trooper Brian D. North is guilty of manslaughter or was justified in fatally shooting Mubarek Soulemane more than two years ago after the mentally ill 19-year-old hijacked a car at knifepoint in Norwalk and led police on a 30-mile chase before being cut off in West Haven.
Because of police body and dashboard camera video, the manslaughter charge brought last week by state Inspector General Robert J. Devlin Jr. is entirely plausible. When he was shot, Soulemane was sitting in the car with the windows up, holding a knife but not within reach of anyone. He was shot so fast after being stopped that it looks like the result of the trooper’s adrenaline and rage rather than any danger posed at that moment. No one would have been hurt by a few more seconds of restraint by the police.
But under state law the issue to be decided in court will be whether at the moment of shooting the trooper reasonably thought that his life or the lives of other officers at the scene were in immediate danger. While the inspector general concluded that this was not a reasonable thought, even jurors agreeing on that point may conclude that Soulemane bears heavy responsibility for his own death.
Indeed, jurors may sympathize with the trooper’s adrenaline and rage, no matter how much police must be trained to resist those things. Jurors also may be reluctant to wreck the trooper’s life for what they may see as an understandable mistake.
While the case against the trooper won’t be so easy to prove, at least it suggests that, thanks to police video cameras and, as Governor Lamont stressed, a new office of investigation fully independent of the police, Connecticut at last is better prepared to enforce standards and uphold accountability in police work.
But Connecticut will ignore another big issue arising from the Soulemane case: his longstanding mental illness, which was well known to his family, doctors, and police in New Haven, where he lived, and which made his untimely death predictable.
Soulemane’s family often called police to help restrain him and had taken him to Yale New Haven Hospital at least 10 times amid schizophrenic episodes. His sister told the Connecticut Mirror: “It was a constant battle: Mubarak versus schizophrenia.” His brother told the Hartford Courant he always feared that Mubarek’s life would end as it did.
Nothing worked for the young man but nothing effective was done to protect him or to protect society from him. Everyone involved with him should have sought to have him institutionalized long before he was shot to death. But policy in Connecticut is to let the chronically and disruptive mentally ill run loose rather than make room for them in mental hospitals.
This policy is an admission that government won’t seriously address mental illness even as government lately has induced mental illness everywhere with lockdowns, layoffs, work reductions, and school closings.
Another such admission came this month when the General Assembly’s Judiciary Committee approved a $9 million damage lawsuit settlement with the family of a patient at the state’s hospital for the criminally insane, Whiting Forensic Institute in Middletown. A tipster reported grotesque abuse of the patient by many hospital staff members. Surveillance video confirmed the abuse. A dozen staff members were fired and several convicted.
The settlement got little publicity even as the governor and state legislators were loudly rationalizing the extravagant new contract being given to the state employee unions. State employees were lauded for staying at work during the epidemic, as if private-sector workers didn’t stay at work too while others lost their jobs or work hours. No state employee missed a paycheck.
If Soulemane had been committed to Whiting he might still be alive today, and, even if he had been abused like the patient in this month’s damage lawsuit settlement, he too might be getting rich. Now that he is dead, in part because he was not institutionalized, his family may get rich from their own damage lawsuit against the state.
They will consider it justice. Everyone else might consider it more expensive incompetence and malfeasance in state government.
Chris Powell is a columnist for the Journal Inquirer in Manchester, Connecticut.