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Can Raleigh police handle situations with people in mental-health crises, activists ask

Activists decry Raleigh Police shooting of man with mental illness

A celebration of the life of Soheil Mojarrad will be held Saturday. Activists criticize Raleigh Police after an officer fatally shot the man with mental illness last weekend.
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A celebration of the life of Soheil Mojarrad will be held Saturday. Activists criticize Raleigh Police after an officer fatally shot the man with mental illness last weekend.

Community activists on Wednesday night decried the fatal police shooting of Soheil Mojarrad and questioned whether Raleigh police can handle tense situations involving people with mental illness.

“This is unacceptable that a wonderful human being like Soheil is no longer alive today,” said Faisal Khan, founder and director of the Carolina Peace Center.

“Given the information that we have right now it is absolutely unjustified that he was shot and killed,” Khan said during a brief press conference posted on wral.com and covered by ABC11, The News & Observer’s media partner. “There’s absolutely no reason that he’s dead today.”

Kerwin Pittman, executive director of the nonprofit RREPS (Recidivism Reduction Educational Program Services), asked why crisis intervention was not deployed and why non-lethal measures were not used.

“Could other tactics have been used besides deadly force?” Pittman asked. “Could he have been Tased, maced, detained, restrained?”

Both Pittman and Khan also asked why the officer’s body camera was not turned on.

“This is unacceptable; this is disheartening,” Pittman said. “For officers to be able to turn their body cameras on at their own discretion is unacceptable.”

Family, friends and activists mourn Soheil Antonio Mojarrad, 30, who died in a fatal encounter with a Raleigh police officer Saturday night in an officer-involved shooting near New Bern Avenue.

Officer W.B. Edwards, who police have said shot Mojarrad on Saturday night, had a body camera but it wasn’t activated, according to a Police Department news release.

The body-camera vendor chosen by Raleigh does not offer a feature that automatically turns on the camera when an officer draws his or her gun, police spokeswoman Donna-maria Harris said by email.

Edwards, a senior officer assigned to the Field Operations Division, was hired in 2000 and has been placed on administrative paid leave, Harris said.

Zainab Baloch, a community activist running for Raleigh mayor, said people with untreated mental illnesses are 16 times more likely to be killed during a police encounter than others approached or stopped by law enforcement officers.

“By dismantling our mental health treatment systems we have turned mental health crisis from a medical issue into a police matter,” Baloch said during the news conference.

“Our question is, is our city providing the right resources to our officers to be able to deal with our most vulnerable populations?” she said. “Until we reform the public policies that have abandoned them these tragic outcomes are going to continue.”

A caring person

Police have released four clips from 911 calls and radio traffic from Saturday’s incident at the shopping center near the intersection of New Bern Avenue and North Rogers Lane.

Mojarrad was armed with a knife and had pulled it, according to one recording. In another recording, a Sheetz security guard said a man who had trespassed on the property was back but that no one was in danger, The News & Observer has previously reported.

The Police Department has released few other details, pending a five-day report that the city is expected to release Friday or Monday.

The department and N.C. State Bureau of Investigation are investigating the shooting, which is standard procedure in such incidents.

About 75 people attended a vigil at the shopping center for Mojarrad on Tuesday night.

Judy and Mehrdad Mojarrad have said their son struggled with mental illness compounded by a 2012 accident in Asheville where he fell off a sidewalk, was run over by a truck and suffered a traumatic brain injury.

At Wednesday’s press conference, Siavash Mojarrad said an event to celebrate his brother will be held from 2 to 6 p.m. Saturday at a site to be determined. The event will be publicized on social media.

“A funeral would be too low, depressing for him, so we won’t do that,” Siavash Mojarrad said.

“So this Saturday ... we will hold a celebration of life for Soheil where he can have a gathering of anyone and everyone who cared about him, or knew about him or wants to know about him, because he was the kind of person that no one was a stranger to him,” he said. “Everyone was someone he cared about and loved, even if it was the first minute he met you.”

Staff writer Anna Johnson contributed to this report.

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