A veteran officer with the San Diego Police Department (SDPD) who shot and killed an unarmed, mentally ill man told investigators he believed the suspect was armed with a knife and was going to stab him during their brief encounter in an alley behind a bookstore.
“He was going to stab me. There’s no doubt in my mind that he was going to stab me,” said SDPD Officer Neal Browder to investigators, referring to Fridoon Rashawn Nehad, the 42-year-old man he critically wounded on April 30, 2015, in San Diego’s Midway District.
For the first time in nearly eight months, San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis released graphic surveillance video clips Tuesday morning of Browder’s shooting of Nehad.
The DA’s office also released a copy of a 15-page letter sent by Dumanis to SDPD Chief Shelley Zimmerman outlining the investigation into the officer-involved shooting. The letter – dated Nov. 9, 2015 – includes statements made by Browder to investigators, offering the first glimpse into what the officer was thinking in the moments leading up to the fatal shooting.
According to the report, Browder shot and killed Nehad 32 seconds after driving into an alley behind the Hi-Lite Adult Bookstore in the 3200 block of Hancock Street.
The officer told investigators he had responded to a report of a man, armed with a knife, threatening people in the area who had last been seen walking down the alley by the bookstore.
The DA’s letter says that as the information was dispatched to officers, Browder never heard any updated information that the suspect was not armed.
“To the contrary, the information being dispatched was the man was still armed with a knife,” the letter from Dumanis states.
As Browder arrived at the alley, he spotted a man fitting Nehad’s description and asked a dispatcher to confirm the suspect’s clothing.
At that point, Browder told investigators he believed Nehad was approximately 25 to 30 feet away from his patrol car. The officer said the suspect was “walking at a fast pace right toward his car,” according to the report.
“I see something in his hand and that’s what I keyed on and it looked like it was a metal object,” Browder said. “I could see the reflection off the light. And the first thing in my mind is, ‘He’s armed with a knife.’ I mean, that’s the first thought that was coming through my mind…he’s still armed with a knife. And the next thing is like, ‘Why isn’t he stopping?’”
Browder told investigators it appeared as if Nehad was carrying the object in his left hand, at an angle, and he could see the point of it.
“It was just like how you’d hold a knife if you were holding it by the handle,” the SDPD officer recounted. “I saw probably about three to four inches of this object sticking out of his left hand. It appeared to be metal to me. I’m thinking it was a knife. And the thing is that he kept coming up…aggressive…on the driver’s side of the car.”
“I swear, I thought he was going to stab me,” Browder added.
With seconds to react, Browder pulled out his service weapon – a .45 caliber Glock, Model 21, semi-automatic pistol – and fired at Nehad. The officer told investigators Nehad was about 10 to 15 feet away from him when he fired the fatal shot. Investigators determined the distance between the pair was approximately 17 feet.
Browder, a 27-year veteran police officer, told investigators he didn’t recall issuing any sort of commands to Nehad.
When asked if he considered using other force options on the suspect before discharging his gun, Browder had this to say: “It happened that quick. I dind’t have a chance to use any other force options.”
As stated in the report, Browder told investigators it appeared the suspect “was focused on him” and was holding the object Browder thought was a knife “at his side and was not dropping it.”
The veteran cop told investigators that usually, when an officer arrives at a scene, the suspect will stop and wait for directions. What struck Browder about Nehad was that he allegedly did not stop and kept walking toward him.
“That caused Browder great concern for his safety and he believed Nehad was going to stab him,” Dumanis’ letter states.
Investigators asked Browder about this training and experience with knives and edged weapons, specifically how quickly a person who was 10 to 15 feet away could injure or kill him.
Browder went on to explain something he knew as the “21-foot rule.”
“When I first came on we would always use the 21-foot rule. If they’re within 21 feet they can be on top of you and stabbing you before you react to that,” he explained. “But now I think they’re trying to extend that distance out even further because I think there is documentation now that someone armed with a knife can literally run up on someone before you’re able to react to that, or already being stabbed.”
In the end, the shiny object being carried by Nehad turned out to be a metallic pen, not a knife.
Dumanis’ release Tuesday of the graphic surveillance video of the shooting was made public six days after a federal judge ruled it would no longer be under a protective order.
Originally, investigators had not planned to release the video, pending the investigation. Dumanis, Zimmerman and an attorney for Browder argued against releasing the video, but U.S. District Court Judge William Q. Hayes ruled officials could not block the video's release.
Dumanis said she opted to release the clips at a news conference Tuesday because she wanted to put the videos in perspective so the public could gain a better understanding of how the incident transpired.
Among the videos released by Dumanis, one clip was recorded on a body camera worn by an officer. The video shows the moments after the shooting, when Browder attempted to tend to the wounded suspect.
The DA's office has decided Browder will not face criminal charges in the deadly shooting.
Meanwhile, Nehad’s family has filed a $20 million claim against the City of San Diego in connection with the killing of their loved one. Nehad suffered from a long struggle with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and was diagnosed with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.
The FBI and U.S. Department of Justice have also launched an investigation into the shooting.