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Raleigh police chief, family give conflicting accounts in fatal police shooting

Raleigh police radio traffic from officer-involved shooting: ‘He’s armed with a knife’

An edited version of a 911 call and radio traffic released by Raleigh police from an officer-involved shooting on April 20, 2019. Calls reveal that the man killed in the incident, Soheil Antonio Mojarrad, had a knife.
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An edited version of a 911 call and radio traffic released by Raleigh police from an officer-involved shooting on April 20, 2019. Calls reveal that the man killed in the incident, Soheil Antonio Mojarrad, had a knife.

A man killed by a police officer Saturday night was shot as he moved toward the officer with a knife and rejected repeated calls to stop, Raleigh Police Chief Cassandra Deck-Brown said in a report released Thursday.

But Thursday night, the law firm representing Soheil Antonio Mojarrad’s family said for the first time that he was shot eight times and that “the majority of the eight gunshots that hit Soheil did not enter through the front of his body.”

Mojarrad, 30, had taken a folding knife from his pocket and was “crouched in an aggressive stance,” yelling profanities at Senior Officer W.B. Edwards, the police report said.

“Mr. Mojarrad repeatedly advanced towards Officer Edwards, despite numerous commands to stop and drop the knife,” the report said. “Each time he advanced, Officer Edwards fired his service weapon at him, while ordering him to stop. Mr. Mojarrad eventually fell to the ground, with the knife still in his right hand.”

The report does not say how many times Edwards fired at Mojarrad.

The incident lasted less than a minute, it said.

Mojarrad was pronounced dead at the scene.

In a statement Thursday night, Cate Edwards, of Edwards Kirby law firm, said the report provides no justification for the use of deadly force against Mojarrad.

“Officer Edwards does not appear to have followed proper procedures, including the activation of his body camera and the appropriate escalation of force,” Cate Edwards’ statement said. “The officer was unjustified in shooting Soheil, and this young man unnecessarily lost his life.”

The law firm also released a statement from the Mojarrad family:

“We continue to grieve the loss of our beautiful son and brother. Soheil wanted the best for himself and everyone, and would never intentionally want to hurt anyone. Sadly, like many others, he suffered from mental illness. He was an incredibly good person. We believe he died a wrongful death, and will continue to fight for justice on his behalf. We are sincerely grateful for those who have shown us so much compassion during this difficult time.”

911 call

Deck-Brown’s five-day report said workers at the Sheetz station at 5200 New Bern Ave. called 911 at about 8:30 p.m. Saturday because of a man who had been asked to leave the business.

When Edwards came to the station to get gas for his patrol car, a Sheetz clerk and a customer told him that the man the 911 call was about had taken a cell phone from the customer and left the area.

Edwards then saw a man later identified as Mojarrad in the shopping center and asked him to stop walking away, the report said.

“The individual ignored Officer Edwards and continued to walk away,” the report said. “Officer Edwards continued to give him commands to stop. The individual, later identified as Mr. Soheil Antonio Mojarrad, turned and began screaming obscenities at Officer Edwards and waving his hands around. Officer Edwards tried to calm him down and told him he just needed to speak with him.”

After Edwards shot Mojarrad, he called for Emergency Medical Services and additional backup, the report says.

Edwards was wearing a body camera but it was not activated, Raleigh police said. The department’s policy says cameras should be activated “as soon as feasible during all contacts involving actual or potential violations of the law,” such as traffic stops and arrests.

“Because Officer Edwards did not activate his body worn camera, there is no footage from his body worn camera of the shooting,” the report said.

Edwards’ patrol car, which had a dash camera, was facing away from the scene of the shooting and also did not capture the incident, the report says.

State Bureau of Investigation and Raleigh police investigators obtained recordings from private security cameras in the shopping center. They show the original larceny, as well as Mojarrad walking through the shopping center. None of the cameras recorded the shooting, the report says.

Friends and family said Mojarrad struggled with his mental health and that he suffered brain damage when he fell off a sidewalk and was hit by a truck in Asheville in 2012. He was known as a kind and caring person.

Edwards, a senior officer assigned to the Field Operations Division, was hired in 2000 and has been placed on administrative paid leave, a police spokeswoman has said.

The shooting is being investigated by both the Raleigh Police Department and by the SBI, which will release its report to Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman.

The five-day report, which is considered a preliminary review, was delivered to the city manager’s office before it was released to the City Council and media.

A celebration of the life of Soheil Mojarrad will be held Saturday. Activists criticize Raleigh Police after an officer fatally shot the man with mental illness last weekend.

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Joe Johnson is a reporter covering breaking stories for The News & Observer. He most recently covered towns in western Wake County and Chatham County. Before that, he covered high school sports for The Herald-Sun.
Anna Johnson covers Raleigh and Wake County for the News & Observer. She has previously covered city government, crime and business for newspapers across North Carolina and received many North Carolina Press Association awards, including first place for investigative reporting. She is a 2012 alumna of Elon University.
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