An unarmed man who was shot to death in April in the Midway District by a San Diego police officer whose body camera wasn’t switched on was not advancing toward the officer when he was shot, according to a sworn statement by a witness who repeatedly watched a security video.
An investigation by the San Diego Union Tribune and interviews with someone who watched the video many times confirms that Nehad was not a threat to the police:
“The account of the last moments of Fridoon Rawshan Nehad is contained in the declaration from Wesley Doyle, 38, a former employee of KECO Inc., a nearby business whose security cameras captured the encounter with Officer Neal Browder.
“The KECO video was shocking to me and, I believe, to anybody else who sees it,” Doyle’s statement says. “Officer Browder did not even get into a shooting stance. The shooting appeared to be unprovoked; Officer Browder appeared to shoot Fridoon hastily.”
Doyle said he watched the video 20 to 30 times, and it shows Nehad walking at “an average pace” down an alley behind an adult bookstore on Hancock Street. A police car then pulled up and Officer Browder exited the car.
The video shows Browder stepped around the driver’s side door, Doyle said.
“Fridoon continued to walk toward a dumpster at the northeast end of the alley,” the statement says. “Without notice, when Fridoon was about 15 feet away, Officer Browder raised his weapon and shot Fridoon.”
The statement says Fridoon’s pace “slowed considerably” when Browder drew his weapon, and Doyle said he believed Nehad had “actually come to a complete stop” just before Browder fired.
The city places the distance between the two men at 10 to 15 feet and closing at the time of the shooting. The city filed its differing account in court papers for the federal civil-rights case filed by Nehad’s family.
The city said Nehad “emerged from the shadows of an alley” and headed directly for the officer, brandishing “a metallic pen that appeared to be a knife.”
Browder told him to drop what was in his hand, but the city says Nehad kept advancing and described him as “closing the substantial distance” between himself and the officer before Browder fired.
The video was turned over to police investigating the shooting by the business. Despite requests by The San Diego Union-Tribune and other media, it has not been released. The video does not have audio, so whatever was said between the two is not recorded.
Doyle’s statement, first reported by the online news site Voice of San Diego, adds a new twist to the shooting of Nehad, a 31-year-old with a history of mental illness and one prior arrest in 2008. The shooting was already controversial because Browder, though outfitted with one of the department’s body cameras, never activated it – a move that violated department policy.
Browder, a 27-year veteran of the department, went back on full patrol duty on June 1, according to a spokesman for the department.
A spokesman for District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis said the case is under review to determine if Browder will face any charges.
Doyle said in an interview Tuesday that after studying the video at the marine supply business KECO Inc., he contacted the police department and city officials including the offices of Mayor Kevin Faulconer and Councilwoman Marti Emerald.
He said he never heard from them, nor from the offices of Rep. Scott Peters, D-San Diego. A spokesman for Peters said the office didn’t have a record of the call, though Doyle said his phone records show he made the call on May 2.
Faulconer spokesman Craig Gustafson said Tuesday the office received a voicemail message from a man about the shooting, but the caller did not leave a name and phone number to contact him. The message was forwarded to the police department as well as the Citizens Review Board on Police Practices.
Doyle said he was visited by two San Diego detectives, whose demeanor he described as intimidating. He said he contacted a lawyer for the family to get the information out.
“I really just want this video to come out,” he said.
After the suit was filed the company agreed to turn over the video, said Louis “Skip” Miller, the lawyer for the family. Miller said he’s seen the video, which is under a court protective order, and Doyle’s description is accurate.
He said from his viewing it appears as if Nehad may not have known Browder was an officer. In his declaration, Doyle said that the tape shows the emergency lights of Browder’s car are not on.
”He’s kind of ambling along the alley, and then these headlights are on him,” Miller said. “I’m not sure Fridoon knew he was a police officer.”
Browder had been dispatched to the scene after a 911 call reported a man with a knife was threatening people. Police investigators later said the knife was a shiny object.
After the shooting Chief Shelley Zimmerman announced a change in the body camera policy requiring officers to activate the devices before they arrive on calls, as opposed to once they arrive on scene.”