The family of a man shot to death by a San Diego Police officer who did not record the incident on his body camera has filed a $20 million claim against the city and the officer, claiming he used excessive and unreasonable deadly force.
The claim centers on the death of Fridoon Rawshan Nehad, 42, outside a Midway District adult bookstore early in the morning on April 30.
Nehad, a native of Afghanistan, struggled with PTSD and mental illness after he was drafted into the Afghan army as a teenager to fight the Mujahedeen forces during the country’s civil war, his parents said in the claim, which also detailed how he spent two months in captivity.
The SDPD said officers were called to the Highlight Bookstore on Hancock Street for a report of a man threatening people with a knife. Officer Neal Browder, a 27-year veteran of the SDPD, encountered Nehad in an alley beside the store. The claim alleges Browder did not activate his siren, turn on his police lights or use his megaphone when he confronted Nehad, who is also known as Rawshannehad or Rawshan.
Police say the officer gave Nehad verbal commands, but when he didn’t follow them and kept coming toward Browder, he was shot. However, the claim says Nehad was still 20 feet away and did nothing wrong.
“A police officer can use deadly force only if he is confronted with deadly force or if somebody’s life is in danger,” the document reads. “Nobody’s life was in danger here. Fridoon did not challenge Browder with deadly force. Fridoon did not challenge Browder at all.”
Browder is accused of purposefully not turning on his body camera, and Nehad’s family believes the SDPD tried to help him hide what really happened. Though multiple security cameras recorded the fatal encounter, the agency has not released the video to the public.
"They are covering up what happened, circling the wagons, or so it would appear, and refusing to be up front, refusing to turn the lights on, refusing to disclose it," said the family's attorney Skip Martin.
After the fatal shooting, investigators told media they did not find any knife on Nehad’s body, though they did find a “shiny object” on him. Nehad’s parents said that statement falsely suggested he had a knife and threatened the officer.
After the incident, the SDPD changed its policy on body cameras, requiring officers to turn them on when they are called to a crime in progress, not just when they interact with a suspect. The claim says the agency has a “practice of officer misconduct and deceit, and this case is part and parcel of it.”
The shooting ended Nehad’s long struggle with PTSD and mental illness, his parents said in the claim. While in the Afghan army, Nehad was captured by a Mujahedeen group and spent nearly two months in captivity, being tortured, according to the claim. 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 claim 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 claim 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.
NBC 7 has reached out to the SDPD officials for their response to this claim, but they have not yet responded. While addressing fallout from the shooting, SDPD Chief Shelley Zimmerman said the homicide unit is conducting a thorough investigation, which will be sent to the San Diego County District Attorney's office for review. On Friday, the DA's office said they have not yet received the SDPD's findings.