CT trooper charged with manslaughter in fatal shooting of Mubarak Soulemane

NEW HAVEN — A Connecticut State Police trooper has been charged with manslaughter in connection with the January 2020 fatal shooting of Mubarak Soulemane, according to the state Office of the Inspector General.

Brian North is charged with first-degree manslaughter with a firearm, the office of Inspector General Robert Devlin said in a release. He was released on a $50,000 bond and scheduled to appear in Superior Court in Milford May 3.

Mark Arons, attorney for Soulemane’s family, noted the lengthy legal process to come, but said in a statement that it was a “good day” for the Soulemane family.

“The family of Mubarak Soulemane is very happy that, after 2+ years, Trooper Brian North, who murdered Mubarak in West Haven in January 2020, may be brought to justice,” said Arons. “It’s a long road ahead. But this is a good day.”

The family planned to hold a press conference Thursday to discuss the matter further, according to a statement from their attorneys. In that statement, Soulemane’s mother, Omo Mohammed, said, “Thank God Trooper Brian North was arrested. I now want to see him convicted and sent to jail.”

North turned himself in to the state’s inspector general at Troop I in Bethany around 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, according to state police.

State police said North had been put on paid administrative leave and that his police powers were suspended pending criminal proceedings.

In November 2021, Devlin assumed all pending investigations on the use of force by law enforcement officers in Connecticut, which included the probe of the Jan. 15, 2020, shooting death of Soulemane, 19.

The Office of the Inspector General released its report on the use of force Wednesday. An arrest warrant written by Devlin, which effectively summarizes the report, also was released by the state judicial branch later in the day.

“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. Further, any belief that persons were in such danger was not reasonable,” Devlin said in the report. “I therefore find that North’s use of deadly force was not justified under Connecticut law.”

New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker, in a statement Wednesday, said “Mubarak Soulemane’s death is a tragedy, and he should still be alive and with us today. I have watched the video of the incident many times which leads so many of us to believe that the trooper’s actions were unjustified. This is now reenforced by the charges brought by the Inspector General.

“ ... The state trooper’s arrest, and the due process that will follow, will help ensure that there is accountability for Mubarak’s death and that justice will be served on his behalf and for his family,” Elicker said.

What transpired

The incident began that January day when Soulemane, a New Haven resident, went to Norwalk following an argument with his brother, according to the OIG report.

Soulemane suffered from schizophrenia, his mother told investigators. If he stopped taking his medication, he would become argumentative, she said, but not violent.

Soulemane’s girlfriend later told the Department of Criminal Justice that he had become “erratic, paranoid and disorganized” in the days prior.

On the day of his death, Soulemane had come to her job, “acting worse than the previous night,” she told investigators. He told her he was going to Norwalk to play basketball and get a haircut.

Soulemane arrived at the LA Fitness on Main Avenue in Norwalk soon before 3 p.m., according to the report. A manager said he seemed “out of sorts.” He initially refused to leave the basketball courts there, prompting complaints from patrons, then left the building and immediately returned. The manager said he called police; Soulemane left at that time.

Soulemane then arrived at an AT&T store down the road, according to the report. He “appeared mentally disturbed and was acting strange,” including talking to himself, according to a sales representative who spoke with him.

Soulemane initially sought to purchase an iPhone; after being told of the cost, he left the store but quickly returned.

The manager of the AT&T store said he saw Soulemane pull out a knife.

Soulemane again left the store, returning this time without the knife, and attempted to steal an iPhone. The manager grabbed it away from him “without force”; Soulemane again left the store and got into the Hyundai.

The driver of the Hyundai, working for Lyft, said Soulemane told him to “drive, drive, drive” after entering the vehicle, seeking to go to the Sprint store in Norwalk. He demanded the driver give him his phone; after the driver refused, Soulemane slapped him on the side of the head.

The driver pulled into a gas station, got out of the vehicle, according to the report, and pulled a firearm from his waistband.

The driver attempted to flag down a police officer — officers had arrived at the AT&T store as he had driven away, he said — at which time Soulemane jumped into the driver’s side of the vehicle. The Norwalk officer attempted to open the driver’s side door, but it was locked; Soulemane left the scene in the vehicle.

The chase, crash and fatal shots

The incident in Norwalk prompted a high-speed chase on Interstate 95 from Norwalk to West Haven. The pursuit was captured on dashboard camera footage from responding troopers, including North.

Soulemane got off the highway at Exit 43 in West Haven at 5:04 p.m., striking a Chevy Trailblazer, according to the report.

MAP: Tracing the police chase that ended in Mubarak Soulemane’s death

Troopers Ross Dalling, Joshua Jackson and North “effectively blocked-in” the vehicle on Campbell Avenue, according to the report, then approached the vehicle. West Haven police also had responded to the scene.

“Jackson ordered the driver out of the car, but received no response. He later said that the driver seemed ‘out of it.’ Jackson then proceeded to the passenger side. North took a positon at the driver-side window and Dalling was to the rear. North directed Jackson to use his Taser. West Haven Police Officer Robert Rappa smashed the passenger side window using Jackson’s police baton. Jackson then deployed his Taser through the broken out window toward Soulemane. Rappa yelled ‘He’s reaching!’ Soulemane then moved his arm upward holding a knife pointed toward the ceiling of the car,” Devlin wrote in the report.

“North immediately fired his gun seven times through the driver side window into Soulemane’s chest area. North then yelled ‘Drop the knife!’” Devlin wrote. “North was able to break away the shattered glass and retrieved a kitchen knife from the Hyundai that he placed on the hood of the car. Other police officers pulled Soulemane from the car and proceeded to provide medical aid. He was not responsive. Ultimately, Emergency Medical Services arrived and transported Soulemane to Yale New Haven Hospital where he was pronounced dead at approximately 6:03 p.m.”

North’s testimony

In a statement, North later told police that he saw Soulemane’s “eyes open wide” as Rappa shattered the passenger-side window. He said he believed Rappa was attempting to enter the vehicle at that time; he said he saw Soulemane quickly move his right hand into his pocket and remove a knife, then “abruptly move in the driver’s seat.”

“I quickly took my eyes off the suspect and looked in the direction of Tpr. Jackson and the West Haven Officer. I saw Tpr. Jackson quickly advancing towards the open passenger window and I could not see the West Haven Officer anymore. This led me to believe that the West Haven Officer had already begun to enter the suspect vehicle to take control of the suspect. I immediately looked back at the suspect and saw that he still had the knife in his hand, and was making furtive movements,” North said in a statement.

“The suspect was moving and holding the knife in an aggressive manner, and appeared to me to be preparing to attack either Tpr. Jackson or the West Haven Officer. Based on these circumstances, I believed that Tpr. Jackson and the West Haven Officer 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,” North said.

Rappa later told investigators that he had broken the window “to open a line of communication with Soulemane” and allow for the use of a Taser. He had not intended to enter the vehicle, he said.

Jackson later told investigators that he had intended to enter the car and secure Soulemane. The Taser appeared to have been ineffective, he said; Soulemane, holding the knife, “turned his whole torso” toward him and looked at him.

“At this time, I was in very close proximity to the suspect’s vehicle and only had a Taser in my hand,” Jackson said in his statement to investigators. “I was fearful for my safety and believed that I was in imminent danger since the suspect was focused on me with a knife. He was less than six feet or so from me. The undersigned then saw and heard Trooper North fire seven shots and I quickly backed away from the vehicle.”

Hartford-based attorney Jeffrey Ment, representing North, declined to comment on the matter Wednesday. He pointed to a statement given by the Connecticut Police Union Tuesday evening.

Union officials told WTNH they were “disappointed that the Inspector General has made the decision to prosecute a Trooper, who was forced to make a split-second decision during these dangerous and rapidly evolving circumstances.”

“Trooper North was risking his own life while trying to fulfill his oath of office to protect the lives of others. 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,” union officials told the TV station. “We hope everyone reserves judgment until all facts are known in this case and we thank the public for their continued support of law enforcement here in Connecticut.”

The union did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday.

In a press conference streamed by WFSB, Andrew Matthews, executive director of the union, noted that experts consulted by State Attorney Michael Gailor, who handled the inquiry before it was passed to Devlin, had considered the shooting justified.

Matthews declined to discuss the specifics of the case during the press conference.

He said the union was concerned that the power to bring charges in such matters now rested with one person, the Inspector General. Officers, required to make quick decisions in the course of their jobs, need to know they’re supported in choices made to protect society, he said.

“Every police officer in the state of Connecticut should take notice,” said Matthews.

The union would help to vigorously defend the case and support North and his family, Matthews said.

Devlin said the experts had failed to consider the discrepancy between North’s statements at the scene and the statement submitted by his lawyer, which was offered a month later.

“Other than baldly asserting that North’s stated beliefs were reasonable, neither expert makes any attempt to explain why that belief would be shared by a reasonable officer; when, on these facts, it is patently unreasonable to believe that Rappa had entered the vehicle through the window simply because his head momentarily dipped below the car’s roofline,” said Devlin.

In the warrant for North’s arrest, Devlin goes on to assert that “one second before North fires, Rappa’s cap can be seen above the car’s roofline.”

The rationale for the manslaughter charge

Under state law, a law enforcement officer can use deadly force if they “reasonably” believe it is necessary “to defend himself or a third person from the use or imminent use of deadly physical force,” Devlin said in the report.

North asserted he had fired at Soulemane in defense of a third party, Rappa and/or Jackson, Devlin said.

Neither Rappa nor Jackson were in danger at the time, Devlin said, as “Soulemane was in the driver’s seat of the Hyundai and they were outside of the vehicle,” and, although Soulemane held a knife, “he was not using the knife against them nor presenting any imminent threat to do so.”

Devlin questioned whether North actually believed that Jackson and/or Rappa were attempting to enter the vehicle. According to North’s body camera footage, Devlin’s report says, North tells Trooper First Class Colin Richter he had fired after Soulemane pulled out the knife, not mentioning the need to protect Jackson or Rappa.

The passenger-side of the vehicle was locked, Devlin said, meaning the only way to get into the vehicle was through the broken window. North was “looking intently into the car at close distance before firing,” and thus aware of that, Devlin said.

“It is simply unreasonable to believe that Jackson or Rappa would intentionally place himself into a zone of lethal danger by crawling through the window knowing that an armed suspect (unaffected by the Taser deployment) was inside the car. A reasonable police officer would know that officers would not put themselves in such a vulnerable position,” said Devlin. “Such reasonable officer would further know that, since they would not enter the car, they did not need protection from a knife attack by Soulemane. In point of fact, neither Jackson nor Rappa entered the Hyundai and a reasonable officer would have expected them not to.”

Devlin determined the concept of using force was unnecessary in and of itself, according to the report.

Devlin also said it was unreasonable to fire seven shots. One, he said, “might have disabled Soulemane from attacking others yet not kill him.”

“The law is clear that 20/20 hindsight is inappropriate in evaluating an officer’s conduct given the split second decisions officers must make in dangerous situations. The law is also clear, however, that the officer’s conduct must be reasonable to be justified,” said Devlin. “In the present case, that standard of reasonableness was not met.”