Mohamed Bah’s family reacts to $2.2 million civil cop shooting settlement

By Nayaba Amsterdam News Editor And AUTODIDACT 17 Special to the AmNews | 11/16/2017, midnight
In Manhattan Tuesday, a federal jury determined that the family of Mohammad Bah, a mentally ill Guinea native who was ...
Rally for Muhammad Bah

In Manhattan Tuesday, a federal jury determined that the family of Mohammad Bah, a mentally ill Guinea native who was shot eight times and killed in his home by three New York City police officers 2012, should be compensated for their loss with a $2.2 million settlement.

“This is a victory in at least proving what they did to Mohamed,” Bah’s mother, Hawa Bah told the Amsterdam News. But she added forcefully, “I want to make sure that this does not happen to another mother and for the future direction, let the DoJ and the district attorney see the truth. This concerns everyone in the U.S. because if cops murder someone you cannot know unless it comes to a settlement or goes to trial, so that is very bad for us. They [the police] should protect us—not kill—but there should be accountability when they kill.”

Bah family attorney Randolph McLaughlin told the Amsterdam News, “The benefits of a civil trial is that it exposes to the city and the public to the facts of the case and what went on in Mr. Bah’s apartment, and the officers have to defend their actions in open court in front of the jury. However, at the same time, going through a trial—seeing autopsy photos of your loved one, and hearing how they died brutally—is traumatic for the family members in a way we can only imagine, and my complaint with the city and how they handled this case is that they were callous to the pain that this mother and this family had to go through for five years.”

The attorney further noted, “This is the only major police misconduct case of its kind involving an individual who had not committed a crime to go to trial...Ramarley Graham case—settled, Eric Garner Case—settled. So the families in those cases were spared the pain of a trial, and for some reason, which is unfathomable to me, the city chose to drag Mr. Bah’s memory through the mud. So that to me is unforgivable.”

Immediately after the civil suit verdict, Hawa Bah and her daughter, Oumou Bah, released the following statement:

“When Mohamed was first killed, we were told it was not possible to prove he was killed unjustly, that it was only Mohamed and the officers in the room, and Mohamed was dead. However, the truth has come out through this trial. Clear evidence was presented that the NYPD unlawfully entered Mohamed’s home, used excessive force and killed him in cold blood.”

According to reports, on the evening of Sept. 25, 2012, three NYPD Emergency Services Unit members responded to a 911 call from Hawa Bah requesting medical attention for her son, who she said was suffering a mental episode. The cops claimed that after they arrived at 113 Morningside Ave., the 28-year-old Bah lunged at them and began stabbing them with a 13-inch knife, but they weren’t because of their bullet-proof vests, and they killed him.

The jury, consisting of five men and five women, found officer Edwin Mateo liable for “excessive use of force,” and his supervisor, Lt. Michael Licitra, liable for “failing to properly supervise Mateo.”

McLaughlin said that the jury was persuaded after it was revealed that Mateo gave conflicting accounts about Bah’s killing. First telling officers at the scene that night that Bah was stabbing him, but then later in a deposition for the civil rights case, saying he wasn’t stabbed.

The lawyer believes the jury was further swayed by a pathologist’s testimony that Bah was shot in the head in a downward direction, meaning he most probably was lying on the floor when murdered by the cop.

“We think those two issues were fatal to Mateo’s situation,” McLaughlin said.

In an email statement, Nicholas Paolucci, a spokesman for the New York City Law Department, said that “the department disagrees with the jury’s verdict” and that it would “take whatever legal steps are necessary” to have the verdict reviewed.

“Our view is that all of the officers involved responded appropriately under the circumstances,” he said. “While this incident ended tragically, we believe these officers strictly adhered to established protocols for dealing with emotionally disturbed persons. Ultimately, they were required to make a split-second decision to use lethal force.”

McLaughlin said, “I think that if we are to have a progressive city that deals with police accountability, then the elected officials from the mayor to the district attorney’s office, who abysmally failed this [family]—they failed to prosecute anyone—they need to be held accountable for what happened here. It wasn’t just an officer who committed a bad deed, it was a system that enabled that to happen, and still enables that to happen.”

“We are pleased with this verdict, but it doesn't bring Mohamed back and it does not equal justice, accountability or systemic change,” the Bah family agreed in their joint statement. “It’s deeply troubling that even though Mateo and Licitra were found liable, they will not face criminal or financial consequences. We are calling for renewed criminal and NYPD investigations into Mohamed’s death in light of this verdict and the overwhelming evidence that these officers broke the law, violated Mohamed’s constitutional rights and broke NYPD protocol.”

The statement concludes, “The truth has been brought to light through this trial. Mohamed’s death clearly shows that the NYPD has no business being the first responders for those who are suffering from mental health crises. Since Mohamed was killed, too many other New Yorkers who needed care and assistance have been gunned down by the NYPD: Erickson Brito, Deborah Danner, Ariel Galarza, Cornell Lockhart, the list goes on and on. This is the consequence of Mohamed’s killers being allowed to walk free. We must hold NYPD officers who unjustly take New Yorkers lives—including the lives of those who need medical assistance—accountable, or else the violence and bloodshed will continue. We will never stop fighting for justice for Mohamed and all those unjustly killed and brutalized by the police, and for the systemic change needed to end police violence.”

Echoing the city’s law department, the police department told the Amsterdam News, “We respect but strongly disagree with the jury’s verdict. Our view is that all of the officers involved responded appropriately under the circumstances. While this incident ended tragically, we believe these officers strictly adhered to established protocols for dealing with emotionally disturbed persons. Ultimately, they were required to make a split-second decision to use lethal force. We will take whatever legal steps are necessary to have jury’s verdict reviewed.”

“We want to make it very clear that finding Lt. Michael Licitra and officer Edwin Mateo liable in this case does not equal justice or accountability,” said the Justice Committee’s co-directors, Loyda Colon and Yul-san Liem, in a statement. “The civil suit process is part of the system that shields police officers from accountability, thus allowing NYPD violence to continue and sending a message to officers that they are above the law. Damages awarded by this verdict—if the defendants’ attorneys are not successful in overturning it—will come out of the city’s budget, i.e., taxpayers’ pockets. The NYPD and individual officers will feel no consequences, financial or otherwise, which is yet another injustice done to Mohamed, his family and New Yorkers.”

Colon and Liem added, “It is an outrage that Mohamed’s family had no real answers until they sat through this civil trial, during which they were forced to listen to the city attorneys attempt to criminalize their loved one and Mohamed’s killers lie again and again on the stand. Mohamed’s family fought for half a decade to bring to light the truth about his murder, only to be shut out and failed by the state and federal criminal justice systems. Civil suits—which reduce human lives to dollar figures and offer no accountability—should not be the first time a grieving family whose loved one has been killed by the NYPD has the opportunity to have some of their questions answered.”

Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office did not respond to an Amsterdam News request for comment on the settlement. Bah family supporters and The Justice Committee agreed, “In spite of the many forms of state violence Mohamed’s family has faced, Mohamed's mother, Hawa Bah, has committed herself to fighting for police accountability and systemic change, and we thank her for her courage and leadership. We stand with Mohamed’s family in their demands that Lt. Michael Licitra and officer Edwin Mateo be fired and face criminal charges for their actions and that the practice of deploying NYPD officers as first responders for those suffering from mental health crises be ended.”