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Phoenix cops who shot, killed Ali Osman won’t face criminal charges

Saturday May 20, 2023

Ali Osman was shot and killed by Phoenix police on Sept. 24 during a confrontation with officers. Courtesy Muktar Sheikh

Ali Osman was shot and killed by Phoenix police on Sept. 24 during a confrontation with officers. Courtesy Muktar Sheikh

The Phoenix police officers who killed Ali Osman — a 34-year-old man who threw rocks at their patrol car — will not face criminal charges in his death, Maricopa County Attorney Rachel Mitchell announced on Wednesday.

Mitchell said county prosecutors reviewed the case and decided no charges were warranted for Jesse Johnson and Brennan Olachea, the officers who shot Osman as he threw rocks at them.

“When the officer made the decision to shoot, that decision was a reasonable one based on the force Mr. Osman had used against them and was continuing to use,” Mitchell explained at a press conference. “Therefore, I will not be seeking criminal charges against the officers in this matter.”

Osman's death on Sept. 24 drew widespread community outrage and sparked an $85 million civil lawsuit against the city of Phoenix. County prosecutors have been deliberating over charges for the officers involved in the months since then.

Quacy Smith, a civil rights attorney representing Osman’s family in their case against Phoenix, said he was frustrated by the decision to let the officers walk free. “The decision was wrong. It was wrong for this family,” he told the press at his offices on Wednesday.

Yet it was hardly a shock, he added. “I was not surprised at all. And that’s a problem,” he said. “We’ve seen that this is a problem in Maricopa County.”
Maricopa County Attorney Rachel Mitchell announced on Wednesday that the officers who killed Ali Osman will not face charges. Katya Schwenk

‘Why not put it in front of a jury?’

Olachea, Johnson and a third Phoenix police officer, Jared Gibson, encountered Osman on Sept. 24 as the man stood on a patch of gravel along 19th Avenue and Tuckey Lane. The three officers were driving by — Olachea and Gibson in one patrol car and Johnson in the other.

As the cars passed, Osman threw rocks at them, which caused some minor damage to the exterior of one patrol vehicle. The officers stopped further down the road, convened and then decided to return to confront Osman. In clips of body camera footage released by the Phoenix Police Department, Olachea says, “Let’s get this motherfucker” as they double back.

According to the lawsuit filed by Osman’s family, at least one of the two patrol cars was equipped with a shotgun that fired so-called “less-lethal” — not live — rounds. In addition, one of the officers had called for helicopter support. Yet none of these resources were used when officers arrived to confront Osman, who was standing alone on the patch of gravel.

Instead, Johnson immediately jumped out of his vehicle and shouted commands at Osman, who threw a rock at Johnson’s shin. Johnson then shot Osman multiple times — just seconds after arriving at the scene. Olachea exited his car at the same moment and also shot Osman.

Then, according to the lawsuit, officers waited two minutes before rendering any aid to Osman, who died of multiple gunshot wounds.

Osman and his family arrived in the U.S. as refugees from Somalia. He grew up in Tucson and later moved to Phoenix, where, for a time, he ran a successful medical transportation business. But for some time before his death, according to testimony from friends and family, he had struggled with his mental health.

On Wednesday, Mitchell expressed condolences to Osman’s family. But she said she did not believe there was a reasonable likelihood that a jury would convict officers on charges such as murder or manslaughter — the standard prosecutors use when considering charges.

Osman was throwing rocks that posed a possible deadly threat to the officers — justifying their response, Mitchell said. The county attorney displayed photos of what she described a large “river rock” found at the scene, although Mitchell admitted that she did not know if Osman had thrown that particular rock.

Smith, the family’s attorney, scoffed at this reasoning. Most of the rocks on the scene were small pieces of gravel, he noted.

“Why not put it in front of a jury and let the jury decide whether these officers’ defense holds up?” Smith asked. “The county attorney singlehandedly hijacked the criminal justice process related to these officers.”
Quacy Smith, an attorney for the family of Ali Osman, said he was disappointed but not surprised by Mitchell’s decision. Katya Schwenk

Civil suit ongoing

Mitchell's announcement on Wednesday was a “horrible” day for the family, which has struggled in the search for justice or accountability after Osman’s death, Smith said. “It’s been a grueling process,” he added.

In February, Osman’s sister and parents sued the city and its police department over his death, following a claim that sought $85 million in damages from the city. The legal proceedings are moving forward with settlement talks likely to begin in the months ahead, Smith said.

It’s not clear, though, if the officers involved will face any discipline over the shooting, even if the city ends up paying millions to Osman’s family — as it has in other such cases.

The police department’s internal review into the incident is ongoing, Sgt. Brian Bower, a spokesperson for the agency, told Phoenix New Times in an email on Wednesday. The two officers who shot Osman “have been assigned to a non-enforcement position during the course of this investigation,” he said.

The third officer involved in the incident remains a patrol officer.

The department has not yet commented on whether it believes the officers acted outside of policy, and it’s not clear when a decision will be made in the case.

Osman was among 10 people that Phoenix police officers shot and killed in 2022. So far this year, Phoenix officers have shot and killed seven people.


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