With a courtroom full of police officers seated behind him, State Trooper Brian North made his first court appearance Tuesday to face manslaughter charges for killing Mubarak Soulemane following a high-speed pursuit into West Haven two years ago.

But the brief proceedings, during which Superior Court Judge Peter Brown set North’s next court date for June 2, were overshadowed by what took place outside of Milford Superior Court on Tuesday.

First, in a show of support for North, more than 50 state troopers flanked the entrance to the courthouse as he and his girlfriend walked up the steps only moments before Soulemane’s family arrived. A short time later, Soulemane’s family and supporters stood on those same steps and vowed not to be intimidated by the police presence.

The Rev. Kevin McCall, who is advising the family, said it was not lost on the Soulemane family that they were surrounded by troopers who filled most of the benches other than a few reserved front rows.

Civil rights leader the Rev. Kevin McCall, right, talks to the media while Soulemane’s siblings stand together after the arraignment. “You will try to intimidate them but they will never be intimidated,” McCall said. Yehyun Kim / ctmirror.org

“You will try to intimidate them, but they will never be intimidated,” McCall said. “We will be at every court date, and on June 2, we will make sure that we will pack the courtroom, because this is the people’s house.” 

North is the first state trooper in Connecticut to be charged in an on-duty shooting and only the third officer in the state to be arrested for a police shooting. He is facing manslaughter charges and could serve up to 20 years in prison if convicted.

It is also the first case that the state’s new Inspector General Robert Devlin has investigated. Devlin, a former judge, personally handled the arraignment Tuesday and has told Soulemane’s family that he plans to try the case himself, according to the family’s attorney, Mark Arons.

While the two sides want different outcomes in the criminal case, which could take years, they all understand its significance and that it will be followed closely across the country by law enforcement advocates and those who have been calling for police reforms since the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis two years ago.

The family, which has waited two years for the shooting investigation to conclude, hopes that Soulemane’s death will lead to lasting reform, which would be a legacy for the teenager who suffered from mental illness and lost his life when North shot him in 2020.

“Police were marching and demonstrating today and protesting. The police say that policing is dead. We say Mubarak Soulemane is dead because of Trooper Brian North,” Arons said.

“Police training and tactics must change. The use of deadly force must be the last resort, the very last resort, and not the first option,” Arons said. “Mubarak’s legacy will be real, lasting change from coast to coast that directly results in saving lives for years to come.”

Andy Matthews, executive director of the Connecticut State Police Union, said North’s arrest and police reform legislation akin to that passed in Connecticut after Floyd’s death have a chilling effect on public safety. Matthews spoke before the arraignment and also sat at North’s defense table in court.

“The boots on the ground, in the field, police officers from all over the state — if you were to ask them their honest opinion, without fear of retaliation from their command staff, they would tell you that they’re more reactive than proactive now, and that affects the safety of the public,” said Matthews.

Connecticut Trooper Brain North, center, and his girlfriend leave after his first court appearance Tuesday. North’s next court date is set for June 2. Yehyun Kim / ctmirror.org

Matthews said that since North’s arrest, police from all over the country have reached out to the union to offer support. Some from as far away as Pennsylvania were in Milford Tuesday morning to show their support.

“Our troopers put their lives on the line every day to protect the public. When people make split-second decisions that others can then review over and over again and form their own judgment of what they did or what they should have done, then we have to stand up for our troopers,” Matthews said.

The shooting occurred on the evening of January 15, 2020, after Soulemane led police on a high-speed chase down Interstate 95. 

Soulemane, who suffered from schizophrenia, had allegedly threatened people with a knife inside an AT&T store in Norwalk and then took off in a stolen car.

State police chased him to West Haven where, they said, Soulemane took an exit and rear-ended a civilian’s vehicle. His car was boxed in by police, and he would have been unable to open the driver’s side door.

Police said the officers ordered him out of the car, but he refused.

State police body camera videos show a West Haven officer smashing out the passenger door window of the stolen car before another trooper shoots Soulemane with a stun gun, which didn’t appear to have any impact.

North then fired his handgun seven times through the driver’s door window when Soulemane displayed the knife, state police said. Photographs taken after the shooting show that Sulamane had a knife in his right hand.

In his statement to investigators, North said that Soulemane was “holding the knife in an aggressive manner” and appeared to be preparing to attack other officers who were outside the car.

“Based on these circumstances, I believed that (the other officers) were at imminent risk of serious physical injury or death, and could have been stabbed in the neck or face as they attempted to enter the vehicle and remove the suspect. As a result, I discharged my duty firearm to eliminate the threat.”

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.

From left, Attorney Sanford Rubenstein, Omo Klusum Mohammed, mother of Mubarak Soulemane, and civil rights leader the Rev. Kevin McCall leave the court. The family said Mubarak Soulemane suffered from schizophrenia and had a manic episode during the police chase. Yehyun Kim / ctmirror.org

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.

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.

Devlin reviewed the opinions of three experts, two of whom were hired by the state and concluded the shooting was justified. The third, hired by the Soulemane family, concluded it was not.

Devlin ultimately crafted a 12-page arrest warrant charging North with manslaughter.

“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 report said. “Further, any belief that persons were in such danger was not reasonable.”

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Dave AltimariInvestigative Reporter

Dave does in-depth investigative reporting for CT Mirror. His work focuses on government accountability including financial oversight, abuse of power, corruption, safety monitoring, and compliance with law. Before joining CT Mirror Altimari spent 23 years at the Hartford Courant breaking some of the state’s biggest, most impactful investigative stories.