NEW YORK -- Lawyers for the family of a man who died at the hands of New York City police officers say they have uncovered new evidence that his death was an "execution" and was subsequently covered up by the NYPD.
Now the family of the victim, Mohamed Bah, wants the Department of Justice to press federal civil rights charges against the officers.
“After over a year and a half of investigating what happened the night Mohamed Bah was killed, I’m here to tell you we can only conclude two things: an execution and a cover-up,” Debra Cohen, one of the lawyers representing the Bah family, told supporters at a Tuesday evening rally outside the lower Manhattan office of U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara.
“It’s only after taking the sworn depositions of over 16 members of the NYPD, looking at thousands of pages of documents, looking at the autopsy report, looking at photographs, that we can say that it’s clear that what the NYPD put out the night Mohamed Bah was killed are pure and simple lies,” Cohen added.
Mohamed Bah, a 28-year-old immigrant from Guinea, who worked as a cab driver and had been a student at Borough of Manhattan Community College, was shot and killed inside his Manhattan apartment by police officers on Sept. 25, 2012.
His mother, Hawa Bah, had called 911 from outside his apartment, asking for an ambulance because her son was acting erratically and seemed unusually depressed. She was surprised to see police, not medical personnel, show up, she said.
“A police officer straddled Mr. Bah while he was still alive and breathing on the ground, bent over and shot him in the head to finish the job.”
She grew concerned when officers wouldn’t let her talk to her son in order to calm him down -- as is recommended by NYPD guidelines -- and then asked her to exit the building.
A second set of officers, this time from the Emergency Services Unit, then showed up in tactical gear, broke down part of Bah's door and tried to insert a small camera into his apartment to monitor his activity.
According to police statements at the time, Bah then threw open the door and lunged at officers with a knife. But according to Cohen, that never happened. Instead, when an officer fired a stun gun to subdue Bah, it missed and hit another officer, causing the hit officer to fall over and knocking down another, Cohen said Tuesday.
One officer then possibly mistook the sensation of being tasered for being stabbed and screamed out, “I’m being stabbed! Shoot him!”
Three officers then fired 10 shots, striking Bah seven times. He took three bullets in his stomach and lower chest and three in his upper left arm and shoulder. The seventh and final shot, which hit Bah in the side of the head, was fired from close range in a downward trajectory, the autopsy showed, even though Bah was over 6 feet tall.
This evidence combined with officers' testimony, Cohen said, means “the only logical explanation is that a police officer straddled Mr. Bah while he was still alive and breathing on the ground, bent over and shot him in the head to finish the job -- while he was a threat to no one, while he had committed no crime.”
After the incident, police told the New York Daily News that one officer was treated for a stab wound.
But no officer ever reported being stabbed to medical staff, Cohen said. Rather, one officer reported a small “pinprick” injury, possibly from the taser or from falling down. That officer and two others were treated for tinnitus.
Cohen and her co-counsel, Randolph McLaughlin, both of the law firm Newman Ferrara LLP, also said Tuesday that police also planted the knife at the crime scene.
“They took a knife from his apartment into evidence,” Cohen told HuffPost, pointing to photos from the scene which show the kitchen knife in different positions. Cohen said a video of the scene taken before evidence was collected shows no knife on the floor at all.
The city told Cohen and McLaughlin that the knife itself was lost during Hurricane Sandy, which destroyed evidence stored in an NYPD warehouse. But in September, the lawyers were told the knife wasn’t actually lost, but had just been contaminated during the storm.
“They never did any fingerprint or DNA testing or analysis [on the knife], all of which was ordered by crime scene unit investigators,” Cohen said. “No results have ever been produced and there’s been no confirmation if those tests were ever taken.”
The lawyers administered their investigation as part of a $70 million lawsuit Bah’s family filed against the city in 2013, which also seeks to change the way police handle people dealing with a mental illness.
A Washington Post investigation earlier this year found that in the first half of 2015, at least 125 people with symptoms of mental illness were killed nationwide during encounters with police.
“My son was Mohamed Bah. He never committed a crime in his life,” Hawa Bah told about 40 supporters at Tuesday’s rally. “He was sick. I tried to have an ambulance but the police responded, and I said, ‘I didn’t call the police.’”
As Bah called on the federal government to put the officers who killed her son behind bars, she was joined by the mothers of other black and Latino men who lost their lives in encounters with the NYPD.
“I’m here because my son’s case has gotten a lot of attention, but other cases, like Mohamed’s, have not,” Gwen Carr, the mother of Eric Garner, said in a statement. “All the mothers need to stand together to make sure our children get justice. We need the Department of Justice to do this right thing for our sons.”
“It’s time for the DOJ to stop dragging their feet in our sons' cases,” said Constance Malcolm, mother of Ramarley Graham. “Justice delayed is justice denied. It’s difficult to believe the federal government actually values the lives of our sons when it takes years get any answers.”
Cohen and McLaughlin will deliver their findings to the Department of Justice on Wednesday afternoon, they said.
“We have to hold on to the hope, if there’s hope for any of us for justice in this society, that when they read the depositions that we took... they will have to come to the conclusion, that someone has to be held accountable,” Cohen said at Tuesday's rally.
The city's law department did not immediately respond to a request for comment on this story. The Department of Justice declined to comment; the NYPD also