A Manhattan federal jury on Tuesday awarded $2.215 million in damages to the family of Mohamed Bah, an emotionally disturbed African man with a knife who was fatally shot in his own apartment by police in 2012 after his mother called 911 to seek help for him.
Police said Bah was shot because he came at them with the knife, but the jury found that Det. Edwin Mateo used excessive force because Bah wasn’t attacking him when he fired, and that Lt. Michael Licitra failed to adequately supervise cops on the scene.
“The jury agreed with us that the evidence showed that when Officer Mateo shot Mr. Bah five times Mr. Bah was a threat to no one because he had fallen to the ground already wounded,” said Debra Cohen, a lawyer for Bah’s family. “The final shot which was likely the fatal shot to Mr. Bah’s . . . left temple was not a justified act.”
Bah’s mother Hawa, who came from Guinea because she was concerned about her 28-year-old son’s condition, said afterward she hoped his “legacy” would keep the same thing from happening to others.
“The message to the city, to the mayor and the police commissioner, is they’ve got to protect the individual, not just protect the police who [are] acting criminally to the community,” she told reporters. “This needs to stop.”
Bah’s family contended police unnecessarily escalated what should have been a mental health visit by forcing their way into his Harlem apartment, provoking a confrontation and use of a Taser and rubber bullets. When Mateo yelled “he’s stabbing me,” Bah was shot 10 times by three officers. State and federal investigations led to no charges against the police.
The New York City law department, which defended the cops, said after Tuesday’s verdict that they acted “appropriately.”
“While this incident ended tragically, we believe these officers strictly adhered to established protocols for dealing with emotionally disturbed persons,” a spokesman said. “Ultimately, they were required to make a split-second decision to use lethal force.”
The city said it planned to ask U.S. District Judge Kevin Castel to overturn the verdict, and appeal if that fails, but Castel told both sides that the post-trial process could stretch out for years and urged them to discuss a possible settlement to speed up a final result.
Cohen and Randolph McLaughlin, Bah’s other lawyer, complained to reporters that the NYPD’s investigation of the incident had been “shoddy,” Mayor Bill de Blasio had never reached out to the family, and up until now the city showed no interest in settling.
“Maybe today they’ll change their mind,” he said.