Americas

Police mock black Muslim man during 'knee on neck arrest' before he died

Footage has been released showing US police mocking the religion of a black Muslim man during a ‘knee on neck’ arrest before he died in custody.

Muslim Advocates, a national civil rights organisation, released the bodycam video from the 2017 death of Muhammad Abdul Muhaymin Jr in Phoenix, Arizona, which they say has never been seen previously.

In the footage, which some may find distressing, Mr Muhaymin can be heard crying out in pain and calling for Allah, the Arabic word for God.

An officer is heard saying: ‘Allah? He’s not going to help you right now… Relax dude. Stop moving. Stop resisting. You understand?’

But sergeant Mercedes Fortune, of the Phoenix Police Department, disputes that interpretation. He said the police were trying to defuse the situation as per their training.

He wrote in an email: ‘In fact, the officers did not mock or target Mr Muhaymin based on his religion, race, or any other factor. When Mr Muhaymin is heard to say “Please Allah,” the officer responded, “Allah? We’re trying to help you right now dude so relax.”‘

Previous body camera footage from the police included Muhaymin’s plea that he couldn’t breathe, but left out the statements related to his faith.

David Chami, the attorney representing the Muhaymin family in a lawsuit against the city, said he’s certain that police deliberately left out this portion of the video when it was initially given to the media.

Mr Chami said: ‘We think this type of information will help maybe get somebody to take a second look whether these officers should still be patrolling this neighborhood. There’s no doubt that the city manipulated the narrative.’

But sergeant Fortune said any records related to the incident were released to media and other parties the first time they requested them.

Mr Muhaymin’s sister, Mussallina, was left angered by the footage.

She said in a statement: ‘The city of Phoenix and the Phoenix police targeted my brother for his race, they mocked him for his religion and disability, and then brutally killed him. Muhammad Muhaymin Jr. was a man —a man with a family who loved him.’

She has said her brother was homeless and suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and schizophrenia.

None of the officers have been criminally charged or faced internal discipline for their actions.

Daniel O’Connor, a lawyer defending the officers in the suit, said on Thursday that he is unable to discuss ongoing litigation.

Sergeant Fortune also said she could not comment on other specifics of the case citing the same reason.

Mr Muhaymin’s family have filed a $10 million wrongful death suit against the city, see echoes of his killing in George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police officers in May.

It will likely not go to trial until early next year, but attorneys are also looking into opening a federal investigation to see if Mr Muhaymin’s civil rights were violated.

The incident began when police were called to the community centre in the city’s Maryvale neighborhood in January 2017 after a dispute arose over whether Mr Muhaymin could bring his service dog into a public bathroom.


Mr Muhaymin was eventually allowed to go into the bathroom. But officers ran a records check and discovered he had an outstanding warrant for failing to appear in court for a drug-paraphernalia possession charge.

Once outside the community centre, tensions rose as an officer told Mr Muhaymin to put down his dog because he was under arrest.

The lawsuit says an officer knocked the dog out of Mr Muhaymin’s hands after he said he didn’t have anyone to care for the animal.

Mr Muhaymin was forced to the ground after police asked him to cooperate, and he screamed in pain as officers handcuffed him. An officer made a belittling comment to Mr Muhaymin that he was now facing a felony.

After officers brought Mr Muhaymin to a police SUV in the parking lot, officers again urged him to stop moving.

The struggle continued, and Mr Muhaymin is heard saying: ‘I can’t breathe.’

The lawsuit claims minutes later, 43-year-old Mr Muhaymin went into cardiac arrest, began vomiting and died.

After a review, the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office declined in February 2018 to criminally charge the officers involved, saying it didn’t believe the officers committed acts that warranted prosecution.

Transcripts and video from depositions in the case became available after a federal judge in June denied a request made by the city of Phoenix to bar their release.

The request was made after attorneys for the city accused a lawyer representing Mr Muhaymin’s sister of using social media to garner news coverage and incite violence against officers.

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