A state police trooper has been charged with manslaughter for the 2020 shooting death of 19-year-old Mubarak Soulemane in West Haven.
The trooper, Brian D. North, turned himself in Tuesday night. He was charged with first-degree manslaughter with a firearm and posted a $50,000 bail. He is expected to appear in Milford Superior Court on May 3.
Soulemane, whom his family said was well known by local police because of the challenges stemming from his schizophrenia, was in the throes of a mental health crisis when North shot him on Jan. 15, 2020.
He allegedly threatened people with a knife inside an AT&T store and then stole a car in Norwalk. Chased by police, he sped down I-95 until he was pulled over in West Haven.
According to reports and footage from dashboard cameras, Trooper North exited his car, removed his gun from its holster and pointed it at Soulemane, still seated in the car behind a closed door. After about 30 seconds, police videos from the scene show Soulemane appearing to shuffle in his seat. North then fired his weapon seven times into the driver-side window, killing the young man.
“Stated briefly, the investigation establishes that, at the time Trooper North fired his weapon, neither he nor any other person was in imminent danger of serious injury or death from a knife attack at the hands of Soulemane,” the Inspector General’s report reads. “Further, any belief that persons were in such danger was not reasonable. I therefore find that North’s use of deadly force was not justified under Connecticut law.”
North killed Soulemane almost two and a half years ago. The Soulemane family and other advocates have been calling for criminal charges since the shooting— 826 days ago, said his sister, Mariyann Souleman.
“I’m overwhelmed, I’m elated, I’m also deeply saddened, you know. This is a constant reminder, my brother not being here today, but also, this is just a step in the right direction toward accountability,” said Mariyann.
The investigation into the shooting predated the creation of the Inspector General’s Office. Inspectors from the Division of Criminal Justice were the main investigators.
Middlesex State’s Attorney Michael A. Gailor was appointed to lead the investigation around Jan. 20, 2020. Gailor submitted a preliminary report four days later. Inspector General Richard Devlin assumed responsibility for the investigation on Nov. 2, 2021, about a month after he was sworn into office as the state’s first inspector general.
North’s charge is part of a broader reckoning in Connecticut and across the country over police killings of Black people. Lawmakers created the inspector general‘s office following the murder of George Floyd in an attempt to hold police across Connecticut accountable for inappropriate uses of deadly force.
According to a 2020 story in the CT Post, prosecutors filed just one criminal charge — out of 76 investigations — since 2001. It did not result in a conviction.
Soulemane’s death also speaks to the intersection between policing and administering mental health services — all too often a deadly mix.
Research conducted by the Connecticut Bar Association found that almost half of individuals killed by police in the state since 2001 were emotionally disturbed, in mental distress or deemed suicidal. Half of those killed by police were Black or Hispanic.
The Connecticut State Police Union released a statement Wednesday saying North used deadly force to protect the life of another trooper, a decision he made because of Soulemane’s “sudden movements,” forcing North to make a split-second decision.
“Regardless of the Inspector General’s decision, we will respect the judicial process while we vigorously defend Trooper North and his actions,” the union said in a statement. “It is our obligation to protect Trooper North’s constitutional right to due process of law and a fair trial.”
North’s criminal charge is a step toward justice for the Soulemane family, but Mariyann said true justice would be having her brother back.
“But accountability, and the steps in the right direction, and a change in the system, looks like Brian North being held accountable for his actions,” she said. Perhaps that development could lead to systemic change so it’s not every day news, Mariyann said, for “a Black body being taken away so viciously.”