A man shot to death by a San Diego Police officer was holding a pen that the officer mistook for a knife before firing his weapon, according to the city of San Diego’s response to a legal complaint.
The $20 million complaint, filed by the family of Fridoon Rawshan Nehad, 42, claims SDPD Officer Neal Browder used excessive and unreasonable deadly force when he killed Nehad outside a Midway District adult bookstore on April 30.
The allegations are supported by a man who says he saw surveillance video of the incident and called the shooting “unprovoked” and “shocking” in a signed statement attached to the complaint.
City Attorney Jan Goldsmith filed a response Aug. 13 on behalf of the city of San Diego, which is also named as a defendant in the lawsuit, saying the officer acted reasonably in the deadly incident.
The city says shortly after midnight on April 30, the police department received a 911 call reporting that a man was threatening people with a knife at the Highlight Bookstore on Hancock Street.
Browder, a 27-year veteran of the SDPD, was the first to arrive on scene and drove his patrol car into the store’s alley. However, he failed to turn on his body camera — a move which prompted changes to the SDPD’s policy regarding those devices.
Nehad “emerged from the shadows of an alley near the bookstore and headed directly for Officer Browder,” the city’s response says.
Nehad held a metallic pen “that appeared to be a knife,” according to the city. Browder got out of his patrol car with his weapon drawn, yelling at Nehad to "drop it” or "drop the knife.” When Nehad got within 10 or 15 feet of the officer, Browder fired his gun and shot him in the chest. Nehad later died at UC San Diego Medical Center.
Because the incident was not recorded on an officer’s body camera, the SDPD had to obtain surveillance video from KECO, a nearby business. However, the department refused to turn that video over to Nehad’s family until they filed a lawsuit, and KECO refused to give it to them without a subpoena.
The complaint instead leans on the declaration of KECO employee Wesley Doyle, who said he has seen the surveillance video 20 to 30 times.
Doyle said the footage was “shocking" to see, and believes anybody else who watches it would feel the same. From what he recalls, he said Browder did not make any physical movement like raising his hand to order Nehad to stop, nor did he try to use other measures like a Taser to halt him.
“He did not even get into a shooting stance,” Doyle wrote in his declaration. “The shooting appeared to be unprovoked; Officer Browder appeared to shoot Fridoon hastily.”
The city denies that deadly force was unwarranted and that Nehad was unarmed.
“Officer Browder reasonably believed that plaintiff’s decedent [Nehad] was going to harm him or others, and used only the amount of force that was reasonably necessary to protect himself or others,” the city’s response reads.
Click here for the full answer to the complaint.
The city has requested the case move forward to a jury trial. The case is also under review by the San Diego County District Attorney's Office.
In their complaint, Nehad’s parents accuse Browder of deprivation of Nehad’s civil rights, assault and battery, negligence and wrongful death.
The shooting ended Nehad’s long struggle with PTSD and mental illness, his parents said in the complaint. While in the Afghan army, Nehad was captured by a Mujahedeen group and spent nearly two months in captivity, being tortured. He was released when his mother met face-to-face with his captors.
To prevent further injury to their son, his parents said they sent him to Germany for the next 14 years, where he lived away from his family. After the parents fled Afghanistan in favor of the U.S., Nehad joined them there in 2003.
Here in the U.S., he was diagnosed with schizophrenia and bipolar disease. “Fridoon battled against his illnesses for years. He was intelligent, learning new languages (German and French) and taking classes on computer programming, linguistics and literature,” the complaint reads.
But Nehad suffered manic episodes, becoming aggressive and getting him in trouble with the law. He pleaded guilty to battery in 2005, was sentenced for burglary in 2008 and was charged with petty theft in 2014.
“Fridoon was loved. His family spent years and countless hours helping him cope with his PTSD and mental illness,” the document said.
However, during one episode, he threatened his mother and sister and said he would light the house on fire so they could all burn. Investigating police recommended the family get a restraining order to help get Nehad into a shelter in Oceanside, according to the document. His mother filed for the restraining order two days before his death.