Questions remain after US cop kills Muslim man who 'threw rocks'

Community searches for answers after sheriff's deputy killed Yassin Mohamed in US state of Georgia earlier this month.

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    Yassin Mohamed may have been suffering from a mental breakdown the night he died [Courtesy of CAIR-Georgia]
    Yassin Mohamed may have been suffering from a mental breakdown the night he died [Courtesy of CAIR-Georgia]

    The Muslim community in the US state of Georgia is searching for answers after a sheriff's deputy shot and killed a Sudanese-American man earlier this month.

    Yassin Mohamed, 47, was killed on May 9 by an Evans County sheriff's deputy near the rural town of Claxton, which sits roughly 200 miles (320km) southeast of Atlanta, the state capital.

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    According to police reports, Mohamed was throwing rocks at the deputies during the incident that led to his death. He had had several encounters with law enforcement agencies in the 24 hours prior to that incident.

    During one of those encounters, Mohamed was taken to hospital, leading the Georgia chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-Georgia) to question whether Mohamed was suffering from some kind of mental health issues.

    "We're unclear as to the mental state of Mr Mohamed, and until the culmination of the investigation we won't know for sure," said Murtaza Khwaja, the legal and policy director of CAIR-Georgia, a Muslim civil rights and advocacy organisation.

    "What we do know is that law enforcement is treating this a mental health crisis," Khwaja claimed. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) would not comment on the mental health of Mohamed and the Evan's County Sheriff's department did not immediately respond to Al Jazeera's request for comment. 

    In the May 9 incident, the GBI said in a statement that deputies were called after midnight and found Mohamed walking on the road. An altercation ensued after the deputies attempted to make contact.

    Mohamed began throwing rocks at law enforcement, hitting one of the deputies once and "charging" him with a "larger rock", causing the deputy to fire his weapon, the GBI said.

    Mohamed died before being taken to hospital. The deputy was not seriously injured.

    Prior encounters

    Prior to the deadly encounter with the Evans County deputy, Mohamed had "six or seven" interactions with law enforcement and emergency services over the course of the night, according to CAIR.

    These included run-ins with the Glennville police department, the Claxton police department, and emergency medical services (EMS). Mohamed was detained by law enforcement and taken to hospital, where he refused treatment, the GBI confirmed to Al Jazeera.

    During another instance, Mohamed attacked a police officer and ambulance with a plastic pipe. A video taken by law enforcement and obtained by local news outlet AllOnGeorgia shows the incident.

    In the video, Mohamed, who was walking on the road at night, approaches the police car which stopped to approach him, wielding a large, plastic pipe. An officer steps out of his vehicle after warning Mohamed, draws his firearm and appears to drop it, the video shows. Another officer assists in the encounter, and Mohamed is held on the ground. EMS later takes him away.

    According to the incident report, obtained by AllOnGeorgia, the police officer, identified as Officer Skipper, "attempted to place the male subject into custody, but had to be assisted by EMS personnel. The male subject was handcuffed behind his back ... at that time Officer Skipper noticed that the male subject had urinated on himself."

    The GBI confirmed to Al Jazeera that Mohamed was taken into custody, but never charged. This prompts questions about why the later incident involving rocks led to his death, CAIR said.

    "If Mr Mohamed was indeed in the midst of a mental health crisis", Khwaja said, referencing law enforcement sending Mohamed to the hospital for evaluation during one encounter, "it's unconscionable that law enforcement did not place him ... under a wellness hold until they were able to transfer him for treatment.

    "I'd like to stress that Mr Mohamed was subdued by law enforcement without the use of lethal force," Khwaja continued, referring to the video and incident with the pipe.

    The fact that the pipe encounter did not result in the officer resorting to using his weapon "illustrates the very point that far too often goes ignored, police officers choose to resort to lethal force when there are many other alternatives at their disposal".

    Spate of shootings

    According to the GBI, the investigation will be turned over to the district attorney for review once completed. The prosecutor will then decide whether to file charges. It remains unclear whether the officer is still on active duty.

    It is the 38th officer-involved shooting that the GBI has been asked to investigate so far this year, according to a tweet from GBI Public Affairs Director Nelly Miles.

    The Evans County Sheriff's department has not issued a statement on the killing.

    News of the killing came in the shadow of a different Georgia case that caught nationwide attention.

    The GBI is also investigating the high-profile killing of Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old African American who was shot by two white men while jogging in the predominately white neighbourhood of Satilla on February 23.

    Ahmaud Arbery
    Ahmaud Arbery's killing has become a rallying cry for racial justice [Courtesy of Marcus Arbery/Handout via Reuters]

    It took two months for the men, father and son Gregory and Travis McMichael, to be arrested.

    The arrests were made only after a video of the killing was released, roughly 10 weeks after the incident happened.

    The pair was charged with murder and aggravated assault on May 7. The man who filmed the death, William "Roddie" Bryan Jr, 50, was arrested by the GBI on charges of felony murder and criminal attempt to commit false imprisonment on May 21.

    Bryan claims he filmed the video from his front lawn. All three men maintain their innocence. The McMichaels say they suspected Arbery was involved in a string of burglaries in the area. Arbery's mother says she believes her son was just on a jog in the neighbourhood.

    Khwaja, along with CAIR, has decried the killings of Arbery and Mohamed.

    "Mr Mohamed's death sounds disturbingly similar to the police shootings of black men and women that regularly occur across our nation," CAIR said in a statement.

    "A mental health crisis should never be a death sentence. Rocks should never be met with bullets," Khwaja said.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera News