Family of Soheil Mojarrad files lawsuit against Raleigh officer, police chief in his death

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Tuesday, June 9, 2020
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Family of Soheil Mojarrad files lawsuit against Raleigh police officer and chief in his death

RALEIGH (WTVD) -- The family of a man who was shot and killed by a Raleigh police officer last April has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the officer who shot him, the Raleigh police chief and the city.

The family of Soheil Mojarrad, who was 30 years old at the time he was killed, filed the complaint on Tuesday.

Mojarrad was shot by Officer William Brett Edwards outside a plaza on April 20, 2019 after a report that he was trespassing.

The shooting sparked a cry for transparency, since Edwards was wearing a body camera at the time but it was not turned on. Police ultimately determined that the shooting was not captured on any cameras.

Days after activists showed up to a city council meeting in May, Chief Cassandra Deck-Brown sent a memo saying the department was taking action to prevent "the human error of not turning the camera on."

The department decided to alter the cameras to have them always passively recording video, with no audio, even if an officer fails to turn it on.

"On April 20, 2019, Mr. Mojarrad was not suspected of any serious or violent crime," the complaint states. "He did not confront Defendant Edwards or otherwise threaten him. Rather he attempted, unarmed, to flee from Defendant Edwards to avoid confrontation with the police officer."

That differs from the police account of what happened.

The Raleigh police 5-day report alleged that Mojarrad held a knife in a threatening manner and repeatedly advanced toward the officer before he was shot.

According to the 5-day report, employees of a Sheetz gas station on New Bern Avenue called 911 to report that an individual who had been asked to leave the business had returned. At about the same time, Edwards pulled into the parking lot of the gas station to put fuel in his patrol vehicle.

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While he was at the pump, a clerk and customer approached him to tell him about an individual who stole a customer's cellphone and left. They provided a description of the person and Officer Edwards got into his patrol car and drove around the shopping center looking for someone matching that description.

As he was driving, he located the person believed to be the individual -- later identified as Mojarrad. At that point, Mojarrad got up and started walking away.

Officer Edwards then got out of his patrol vehicle and told Mojarrad to stop. "The individual ignored Officer Edwards and continued to walk away," the report said.

When Officer Edwards continued to give him commands to stop, the report said Mojarrad turned around and began screaming obscenities at the officer while waving his hands around.

"Officer Edwards tried to calm him down and told him he just needed to speak with him," the report said. "Mr. Mojarrad continued to scream at Officer Edwards, who was standing less than twenty feet away."

At that point, Mojarrad reached into his pocket and Officer Edwards drew his gun and told Mojarrad to stop, thinking he was grabbing a gun.

The report said Mojarrad then "pulled a folding knife from his pants pocket and flicked it open as he raised it to head level."

"At the same time, he crouched in an aggressive stance, placed one foot behind him and angled his body at Officer Edwards, all while holding the knife in a threatening manner, and screaming profanity at Officer Edwards," the report said. "Officer Edwards commanded Mr. Mojarrad to stop and drop the knife."

Police say an "encounter" ensued, which lasted less than one minute, in which "Mojarrad repeatedly advanced towards Officer Edwards, despite numerous commands to stop and drop the knife."

According to the report, Officer Edwards "fired his service weapon" at Mojarrad "each time he advanced." Mojarrad eventually fell to the ground and the officer called EMS. The 30-year-old was pronounced dead at the scene by EMS.

In the complaint filed Tuesday, the attorneys representing Mojarrad's family said that, while a knife was found at the scene, the North Carolina State Crime Laboratory concluded that there was no DNA evidence or fingerprints on it indicating that it had been handled by Mojarrad.

"Even if Mojarrad had had a knife in his hand, he was not at a distance that he could have used it to exert serious bodily injury or deadly force on Defendant Edwards," the complaint says.

"Officer Edwards could have taken any number of actions to keep both himself and Soheil safe," one of the attorneys representing the family said in a news release on Tuesday. "Instead, he went straight to his gun. It's evident he was not properly trained on the appropriate use of force and deadly force; if he had been, Soheil would be alive today."

The complaint also addresses Mojarrad past of mental health issues, which has led to previous confrontations with law enforcement officers.

According to the complaint, in 2012 Mojarrad was hit by a car, which resulted in a traumatic brain injury.

"As a result, he suffered from pronounced mental health issues which caused him heightened anxiety, fearfulness and memory loss," the complaint states.

ABC11 previously reported that in 2018, according to a citation, Mojarrad kicked a Cary police officer in the neck. That officer wrote in the comment section he was "more interested in treatment than conviction" and that he thought Mojarrad "needs help."

In the complaint, the attorneys representing the family allege that the training provided to Officer Edwards prior to the shooting was "woefully inadequate."

The City of Raleigh and the Raleigh Police Department both declined to comment on the lawsuit, citing the pending legal matters.

The Wake County District Attorney announced last September that the officer involved would not face criminal charges.