Police account of Mohamed Bah's death called into question

What really happened to Mohamed Bah?

Was the 28-year-old immigrant from Guinea executed by members of the NYPD and then a victim of a massive cover-up?

Lawyers for Bah’s family suggested this last month at a rally seeking justice in his death.

The city of New York, Mayor Bill de Blasio and the U.S. Department of Justice Department must get to the bottom of what happened to Mohamed Bah — who was shot to death by the NYPD — and give justice to his family. The lawyers and family say the 28-year old immigrant from Guinea was executed, and the police engaged in a cover up after realizing how badly they had messed things up.

On September 25, 2012, Hawa Bah, Mohamed’s mother — who was visiting her son from Guinea — called 911 seeking medical assistance for her son, who seemed depressed and emotionally distressed. She told the dispatcher her son had mental problems. To her surprise, the cops, rather than paramedics, came to Mohamed’s apartment.

But the cab driver and community college student left his apartment in an ambulance — as the police officers had pumped eight bullets into his body, including a shot to the head, in his home and behind closed doors. The medical examiner ruled his death a homicide due to multiple gunshot wounds, with multiple Taser injuries.

Polite, mild-mannered and hard-working, Mohamed Bah posed no threat to anyone. A Manhattan grand jury refused to indict the three officers, and the Bah family sued in federal court for violations of civil rights law.

An investigation by the Washington Post found glaring inconsistencies in the police department’s account of what happened that day and suggested the police are lying. For example, the police claimed they opened fire on Bah after he stabbed officer Edwin Mateo with a 13-inch kitchen knife. However, in a sworn deposition, the officer testified he did not remember being stabbed, saying he cried out after being tasered by his fellow officer.

Further, the knife was never tested for fingerprints. The NYPD conveniently claimed the knife was “contaminated” after Hurricane Sandy flooded the police evidence warehouse. Moreover, while the cops insisted Bah was standing over them with a knife, lawyers for his family say the bullet that hit his head came at a downward angle, which totally contradicts the police claim that he stood over the officers with a knife.

But there is more at play here beyond the Post report. After Bah was dead, the police searched data on his cellphone and computer, hoping to find something disparaging and damaging in his record. After all, Mohamed Bah was black and also a Muslim, at a time when it is hard to be a young Muslim man in America, held in suspicion and assumed to be a criminal element, if not a terrorist.

Then there are the ways in which police are trained, or nor trained, to deal with people with mental illness or emotional distress. The use of deadly force by police against people who have mental health issues is a problem, as the stigma against such individuals and officers’ misinterpretation of their intentions come into play, and tragedies are created. In the first half of this year, at least 125 people with signs of mental illness were killed in encounters with law enforcement nationwide, as was the case with Bah three years earlier.

“Had the NYPD followed their own protocols for dealing with persons in distress, Mohamed Bah would be alive today,” said Debra S. Cohen of Newman Ferrara, LLP in a statement. “But rather than permitting his own mother to speak to him nor even allowing the NYPD’s own hostage negotiating team to engage him, officers broke into his home and killed him.”

This year, the New York’s finest have fatally shot seven people, tying with San Diego and Oklahoma City for the fourth highest number of fatal police shootings in America. And although New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo signed an executive order this year mandating a special prosecutor to review all deaths at the hands of police, the law is not retroactive.

Mohamed Bah lost his life seven months after the death of Trayvon Martin, and nearly a year before George Zimmerman’s acquittal in Trayvon’s killing, well before the birth of the #BlackLivesMatter movement. And now, more than three years later, another black body has been thrust into the very heart of the movement against police violence. He was black, an immigrant and a Muslim, and he had mental health challenges. And it looks like Mohamed Bah was killed by the NYPD in cold blood. This is how they treat us. We all need to say his name.

Follow David A. Love on Twitter at @davidalove