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CT trooper on trial for killing Mubarak Soulemane takes stand

State Trooper Brian North testifies in Connecticut Superior Court on the fifth day of his trial in Milford, Conn. March 8, 2024.
Ned Gerard
/
Hearst Connecticut Media
State Trooper Brian North testifies in Connecticut Superior Court on the fifth day of his trial in Milford, Conn. March 8, 2024.

Connecticut State Trooper Brian North took the witness stand on Friday in his own criminal trial, which will decide if the 33-year-old officer is convicted of manslaughter for shooting and killing 19-year-old Mubarak Soulemane in 2020.

North’s decision to testify in his own defense comes a day after Connecticut Inspector General Robert Devlin, the prosecutor in the trial, rested his case.

The essential question in the case is whether North was justified in shooting and killing Soulemane, a Black man with a history of mental illness who led police on a high-speed chase in January 2020, or whether he acted recklessly by firing seven bullets through a car window into Soulemane’s chest.

Frank Riccio, North’s defense attorney, called his client to the stand on Friday morning and walked him through a set of questions to remind jurors of the circumstances that led up to North firing his handgun at Soulemane under an overpass in West Haven.

Riccio played footage from the high-speed pursuit that Soulemane led police officers on prior to crashing under the overpass. And he asked North about that chase which weaved through rush-hour traffic on Interstate 95 and eventually ended when several state troopers and West Haven police officers boxed in the stolen car Soulemane was driving.

When it came time to question North about the actual shooting, however, Riccio chose not to play the body camera and dash camera footage for the jury.

Instead, he allowed North to recount for the jurors what he remembered from that day.

North explained how he and the other officers surrounded Soulemane with their guns drawn. He described how Soulemane initially sat motionless in the car. He recounted how one of the West Haven officers smashed out the passenger-side window, and how Soulemane responded by reaching for a knife in his pocket.

At that point, North said he fired his handgun at Soulemane because he believed the West Haven officer was about to enter the car through the broken passenger-side window head first — something that officer denied on the stand earlier this week.

North told jurors that he had “tunnel vision,” and he believed the West Haven officer was within reach of the knife in Soulemane’s hand.

“I felt that I had to act in that moment,” North said.

“I was in fear for the life of the West Haven officer,” he added.

Devlin, who was appointed in 2021 to review and prosecute cases involving police use of force, used the video footage from North’s own body camera to paint a different picture for jurors.

Devlin played the body camera footage frame-by-frame while jurors watched on and questioned whether North really believed Soulemane posed a threat to the other officers on scene.

The breakdown of the video showed that the West Haven officer’s head was outside the vehicle less than a second before North fired his handgun, killing Soulemane.

“It’s your claim he was entering the vehicle headfirst?” Devlin asked.

“It appeared that way,” North said.

“Nobody was in danger of anything, correct?” Devlin asked later.

“I don’t agree with that,” North replied.

To try to drive home his point, Devlin also played video footage that captured North explaining what happened immediately after the shooting.

In those videos, North said he fired his gun at Soulemane after he saw the knife. But he did not mention that he shot Soulemane in order to prevent the West Haven officer from being stabbed in the head or face.

North added those facts to a statement he provided days after the shooting, once he was able to review his body camera footage.

North told the jurors he didn’t include those facts in his initial statements to other officers because he was in shock.

Devlin also questioned North about whether he and other officers acted appropriately in the leadup to the shooting.

Throughout the weeklong trial, Devlin questioned the other officers on the scene about why they didn’t seek to deescalate the situation. And he posed many of those same questions to North, in an effort to show jurors that the trooper acted recklessly.

North repeatedly told jurors that he relied on his training in the leadup to the shooting and during the moments when he pulled the trigger.

But Devlin specifically questioned North about the written procedures that State Police are trained on when responding to a “felony stop” like the one under the overpass that day.

Those procedures, Devlin pointed out, say that officers are not supposed to approach the suspect’s vehicle and are supposed to get the occupants of the vehicle to come to them.

Devlin asked why North, the other state troopers and the West Haven officers didn’t follow those guidelines and instead rushed the car with their guns drawn.

“Everything that was done (by police), escalated the situation. Correct?” Devlin asked.

“I don’t believe so,” North replied.

As Devlin pressed North on the stand, some of his family members who were in the audience grew visibly upset.

Both the defense team and one of the other officers who testified in the trial have accused the prosecution during the trial of serving as a Monday morning quarterback — someone who is judging others’ actions in a stressful situation after the fact.

And they continued to suggest that on Friday. Riccio, North’s defense attorney, asked North, for instance, whether he had the ability to slow down time in the seconds before the shooting.

“No,” North replied.

Riccio also used his client’s time on the stand to try to paint a more favorable picture of North for jurors.

He asked him about why he chose to become a police officer. He got North to explain how he helped perform CPR on Soulemane after the officers pulled his body from the car. And he asked North repeatedly about how he felt after the shooting.

North told the jurors that he thinks about the shooting every day and he described it as “mental anguish.”

“It’s a horrible feeling that come over you,” North said.

This story was originally published by the Connecticut Mirror.

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