Raleigh police released a five-day report Thursday detailing the events that led to an officer shooting and killing Soheil Antonio Mojarrad in East Raleigh Saturday.
However, the report says, investigators found no video footage to corroborate the officer’s version of events, as his body camera was turned off and his cruiser dash cam faced away from the scene. Security footage from businesses nearby also failed to capture the shooting.
The report says that Mojarrad, who had a history of mental illness and repeated run-ins with law enforcement, had stolen the cell phone of a customer from a Sheetz gas station on New Bern Avenue and was holding a knife when Officer W. B. Edwards shot him. Mojarrad was pronounced dead at the scene. The officer is on administrative leave pending investigations by the State Bureau of Investigation and the Raleigh Police Detective Division, as well as an internal probe into the officer’s conduct.
Police were called to the Sheetz gas station at 5200 New Bern Avenue at about 8:30 p.m. because of an individual who was refusing to leave the business. Officer Edwards arrived to fuel his cruiser when employees approached him about the situation, saying the person in question had stolen a customer’s cell phone and left the area, the report says.
Edwards returned to his cruiser and began to search for the suspect, finding Mojarrad, who matched the person’s description, sitting on a bench in a shopping center. When Edwards approached Mojarrad in his car, Mojarrad began walking away, the report says. Edwards got out of the cruiser and attempted to stop Mojarrad, who continued to walk away. Edwards told Mojarrad to stop, and Mojarrad began to “scream obscenities” at Edwards while “waving his hands around,” the report says.
The report says Edwards attempted to calm Mojarrad, who continued to scream.
Then, according to the RPD’s version of events, Mojarrad reached into his pants, and Edwards drew his firearm, believing Mojarrad was armed. Mojarrad produced a folding knife, “crouched in an aggressive stance, placed one foot behind him and angled his body at Officer Edwards,” the report says, “all while holding the knife in a threatening manner and screaming profanity.”
Edwards repeatedly commanded Mojarrad to stop and drop the knife, the report says.
Majored continued to advance toward Edwards, who then shot Mojarrad, the report says. The police account does not say how many times Edwards fired his weapon, but it does state that “Mojarrad eventually fell to the ground, with the knife still in his right hand.”
The report claims the encounter took less than a minute. EMS was called, and Mojarrad was pronounced dead at the scene.
While Edwards was wearing a body camera, he did not activate it. His cruiser, which is also equipped with a dash camera, was facing away from the shooting and did not capture the incident.
“Because Officer Edwards did not activate his body worn camera, there is no footage from his body-worn camera of the shooting,” the report states. “SBI and the Raleigh Police Department have requested and/or obtained recording taken from private security cameras in the shopping center. While they show the larceny, as well as Mr. Mojarrad as he walks through the shopping center, none of the cameras recorded the shooting.”
Mojarrad’s parents told WRAL he suffered from a traumatic brain injury and mental illness. They wanted further clarity from police on why Mojarrad was killed.
Raleigh City Council member Corey Branch, who district includes the gas station, could not immediately be reached for comment on the report.
Raleigh PACT, a local group advocating for police transparency, claims the city’s investment in body cameras “is not worthwhile if they are not auto-activated when a weapon is removed from its holster and when blue lights go on,” executive director Rolanda Byrd said in a statement.
“Once again, a young Raleigh life has been taken, and our community does not have a reliable oversight mechanism to look to,” Byrd said. “We once more have to depend on Internal Affairs, police policing themselves, and a DA’s Office that has consistently defended the police department that she works with every day, a clear conflict of interest.”
Byrd also took issue with the way media has characterized Mojarrad following the shooting, placing an emphasis on his criminal history. Mojarrad has charges dating back to 2009, including larceny, second-degree trespassing, and simple assault. He was also convicted of possessing drug paraphernalia and sentenced to probation in 2012. His mug shot has been widely circulated. Pictures of Edwards have not.
“It is essential that we take a moment to see the humanity of every person before we criminalize them,” Byrd said. “I did not know Soheil, but there was more to his life than his misdemeanor criminal record and mug shot. PACT stands with all people impacted by police excessive use of force, from day-to-day civil rights violations to cases like Soheil’s, which result in death.”
UPDATE: District Councilor Corey Branch told the INDY while he felt the report was detailed, the city needs to take a hard look at its body camera policy to ensure the cameras are being used effectively. The city should also invest in additional servers and technology to store that data, he added.
“We have to look at, as a city, the camera (policy) and working with our officers to activate cameras as soon as they get out of their vehicles,” Branch said.