Fridoon Nehad had a tough, dangerous life, but when he made it to America, everyone thought he was finally safe. But as his family grieves over his death—he was shot and killed by a police officer in an alley—those left behind now recognize the United States might not be the paradise they once dreamed about.
While still living in Afghanistan back in the 1980s, Nehad served in the Afghan military. After being kidnapped by mujahideen rebels and then rescued by his mother, Nehad and his family ran away from Afghanistan as refugees. About a decade later, Nehad’s family members, who had been smuggled out of their country of origin separately, were able to reunite in the United States, where Nehad’s parents and sisters found out their beloved Fridoon suffered from schizophrenia and bipolar disease.
To Nehad’s sister, Benazeer Roshan, Nehad would have been killed by the Taliban due to his mental illness had he been sent back. “But never in America,” she said.
After a 911 caller reported seeing a man in a Midway District alleyway in San Diego on April 30, 2015, police officer Neal Browder responded to the call, shooting the unarmed Nehad.
According to the caller, Nehad was a “knife-wielding man threatening people.” But the shiny object Nehad was seen spinning while walking in the alley turned out to be a pen.
Officer Browder failed to record the encounter on his body camera, though the murder was caught on tape due to the presence of a surveillance camera in the alleyway. After Nehad’s death, city officials, along with the local police, refused to release the footage. But once the video was finally released, “after a federal judge ruled it would no longer be under a protective order,” we learned the officer quickly shot Nehad moments after exiting his police car. Nehad was walking toward the police officer but he had slowed his pace moments before being shot. While the video showed by the police was edited, “Attorneys for Nehad’s family, which has filed a $20 million wrongful death lawsuit against the city, later released the unedited video,” Voices of San Diegoreported.
To witnesses, the deadly attack was “shocking and unprovoked,” but District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis declined to press charges against Browder. Adding insult to injury, lawyers representing the city of San Diego decided to dispute the federal judge’s order to turn over records of other police shootings by local officers, “arguing the family of the dead man should have to pay thousands of dollars for the documents,” reports the San Diego Union-Tribune.
Nehad’s family launched a federal civil rights lawsuit claiming San Diego “has a pattern of inadequate investigations into police shootings that ‘whitewash’ officer misconduct and have created an environment that allows officers to act with impunity, knowing they won’t be punished.” But for the family’s attorneys to be able to back their claim, they need access to public records. They asked the city for information on all related city shootings in the past several years.
But complying with the request is too tough, city attorneys have claimed. After all, releasing the information Nehad’s family is seeking would mean “going through some 15,000 pages of records from 31 officer-involved shootings over the past three years.” Since the request is too broad, the city argued, “the Nehad family should pay the estimated $12,000 cost for review.”
To Louis “Skip” Miller, one of the family’s attorneys, the city is “just trying to punish the family for bringing this suit.” In similar cases, the costs of producing public records are covered by the party holding the documents, and prepayment “is not part of the process.” Nevertheless, Gerry Braun, a spokesperson for City Attorney Jan Goldsmith, said the city wants the court to determine “the plaintiff’s fair share.” But he also admitted that the practice is not standard:
“The position that the requesting party should pay for their discovery at issue is not necessarily routine, but it is not unusual where the requested information bears marginal purpose after a cost-benefit analysis.”
In a move that appears to be put in place to delay the process, the city is now asking the family to bear the cost so the documents can be produced.
These documents were first requested in early 2016. The family’s request was later backed by U.S. Magistrate Judge Nita Stormes, who in May, ruled the city should produce “records of officer-involved shootings from 2013 to the present.” Two weeks after her decision, the city motioned for a reconsideration after estimating the total expense would be $12,000. After offering to compromise by turning over just 620 pages out of the total 15,000, city lawyers argued that if “the judge still ordered turning over all the documents,” the family would have to cover the costs.
The judge has not yet ruled on this motion.
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