A Connecticut State Police trooper was arrested on a felony manslaughter charge after a report by the state inspector general alleged his use of deadly force was not justified in the January 2020 shooting of a 19-year-old Black man.
Trooper Brian North, 31, surrendered Tuesday at the state police barracks in Bethany, Connecticut, after a warrant was issued for his arrest in connection with the fatal shooting of Mubarak Soulemane, state police said.
State Inspector General Robert Devlin Jr.'s investigation found that although Soulemane was allegedly armed with a steak knife, had stolen a Lyft rideshare vehicle and was apparently off his medication for schizophrenia, he was not a threat to North and other officers when he was shot multiple times, according to the report released Wednesday.
Soulemane was killed when North allegedly fired seven times at him through the closed driver's side window of a stolen Lyft vehicle after troopers stopped him and pinned him in on Interstate 95 in West Haven following a chase that reached speeds of 100 mph, according to the report.
Delvin's investigation found that Soulemane was sitting behind the wheel of the car surrounded by troopers and officers from other agencies and was trapped inside because North's cruiser was blocking the driver's side door.
An officer from the West Haven Police Department was bashing in the passenger-side window with a baton and another trooper was poised to deploy a stun gun on Soulemane when North opened fire as Soulemane reached into his pocket and pulled a knife, according to the report.
"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," Devlin concluded in his report. "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, a seven-year veteran of the Connecticut State Police, was booked on a charge of first-degree manslaughter with a firearm, Devlin said in a statement. North was released on $50,000 bond and is scheduled to appear in Superior Court in Milford on May 3.
'A good day'
North was placed on administrative leave and his police powers have been suspended pending criminal proceedings, according to state police.
Mark Arons, the attorney for Soulemane’s family, said the arrest marked "a good day" for the family.
"This is the first step in the journey for justice for the wrongful killing of a 19-year-old Black youth in Connecticut...The family looks forward on this matter being tried and this state trooper being convicted," Arons said in a statement.
The incident unfolded on Jan. 15, 2020, in Norwalk, Connecticut, after police received a complaint that Soulemane was armed with a knife and acting erratically at an AT&T store, according to Devlin's report.
Police were called to the store, but Soulemane left in a Lyft vehicle as they arrived. The Lyft driver told police that Soulemane ordered him to "drive, drive, drive" when he got into the car, according to the report.
The driver alleged that Soulemane demanded his cellphone and slapped him on the side of the head when he refused, the report says. The driver told police he drove to a gas station and got out of the car, pulling a gun on Soulemane and flagging down a police officer, according to the report.
Soulemane allegedly jumped into the driver seat and fled, prompting the police chase.
Trooper claims he was protecting officers
North told investigators, according to the report, that he opened fire because he was concerned that the officers on the passenger-side of the car were in "imminent risk of serious physical injury or death."
"As a result, I discharged my duty firearm to eliminate the threat," North told investigators, according to the report.
North's attorney could not immediately be reached for comment Wednesday.
Connecticut State Police Union officials released a statement to ABC affiliate station WTNH in New Haven, saying they are "disappointed" in the inspector general's decision to prosecute North.
The union added that North "was forced to make a split-second decision during these dangerous and rapidly evolving circumstances."
The union asked the public to reserve judgment "until all facts are known in this case."
"Trooper North was risking his own life while trying to fulfill his oath of office to protect the lives of others," the union's statement said. "Regardless of the Inspector General’s decision, we will respect the judicial process while we vigorously defend Trooper North and his actions. It is our obligation to protect Trooper North’s constitutional right to due process of law and a fair trial."