Raleigh police officer won’t face charges for fatally shooting man with mental illness

Family reacts after learning Raleigh police officer won’t face charges for fatally shooting man with mental illness

The father, brother and mother of Soheil Mojarrad talk with reporters after the Wake County district attorney announced that Raleigh police officer Brett Edwards will not be charged in the shooting death of Mojarrad.
Up Next
The father, brother and mother of Soheil Mojarrad talk with reporters after the Wake County district attorney announced that Raleigh police officer Brett Edwards will not be charged in the shooting death of Mojarrad.

A Raleigh police officer will not be charged in the April shooting of a 30-year-old man with mental illness who threatened him with a knife, Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman said Wednesday.

Officer Brett Edwards shot Soheil Mojarrad eight times, an autopsy later found, after responding to a reported theft of a cell phone at the Sheetz station on Rogers Lane.

In a report released Wednesday, Freeman said the officer followed Mojarrad to edge of a shopping center, where he spotted him behind a privacy screen at a sports bar and then pursued him to a grassy area behind the mall, repeatedly ordering him to stop without effect.

Mojarrad put his right hand in his front pants pocket and balled up his hand inside of it, the report said, so Edwards drew his pistol, thinking that Mojarrad was getting a weapon.

“Mr. Mojarrad pulled his hand out and had a knife in his hand,” the report said. “Edwards said that Mr. Mojarrad flicked the blade open.”

“Mojarrad continued to scream at Edwards while holding the knife in his right hand,” it continued. “Edwards stated that Mojarrad stepped towards him with the knife. Edwards fired what he believes were two rounds. Edwards stated that Mr. Mojarrad reacted as though he had been hit but he remained on his feet with the knife in his hand and continued to scream at him.”

Mojarrad stepped toward Edwards, who then fired two or three more times, the report said. After turning away and walking toward a hedgerow, he turned toward the officer again, who continued to fire. He reloaded and fired again as Mojarrad continued to face him holding the knife.

In her report, Freeman said two of the apparent hits to Mojarrad appeared to be exit wounds, making the actual total six.

“Officer Edwards reasonably believed that his life was endangered when Mr. Mojarrad repeatedly refused to follow commands to drop the knife, continued to yell at Officer Edwards in a threatening manner and moved towards Officer Edwards,” Freeman wrote.

Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman explains her decision not to charge Raleigh Police Officer Officer Brett Edwards in the April 2019 fatal shooting of Soheil Mojarrad.

Use of force questioned

Mojarrad had struggled with mental illness complicated by a 2012 accident in Asheville, where he suffered a traumatic brain injury. His mother said the accident changed him, and both family and friends have asked that people remember his kind and giving nature.

“It is with great pain that I heard the decision from the DA,” said his father, Mehrdad Mojarrad, at a press conference Wednesday. “It is like a freight train running over my heart.”

Mojarrad had several misdemeanor arrests and a run-in with police before the shooting at the east Raleigh shopping center on Rogers Lane. In January, authorities said, he punched a Cary officer who tried to take him for a mental evaluation.

Soheil Mojarrad, shot by Raleigh police in April.

Still, the April 20 shooting stirred controversy both about police use of force and Raleigh’s procedures for body cameras. At an August rally downtown, supporters brought pictures of Mojarrad in his garden and carried placards reading “Justice in Policing” and “Use of Force Has Got to Go.”

“The decision not to charge Edwards “is very disheartening and only deepens distrust amongst the community of Raleigh and local law enforcement,” Raleigh community activist Kerwin Pittman said in a press statement Wednesday. “We as a community must and will see police accountability. Even if a change in those who are to hold law enforcement officers accountable must come.”

Police said Edwards had not activated his camera on the Saturday night he shot Mojarrad, though department policy says cameras should be turned on “as soon as feasible during all contacts involving actual or potential violations of the law.”

In May, speakers at a Raleigh City Council meeting called for greater police accountability and suggested a citizen-led board, which Chief Cassandra Deck-Brown has said she opposes.

A bill introduced in the N.C. House in April would require most officers in the state to wear cameras and allow public access to footage. Mojarrad’s family called that a positive step. The bill remains in committee, House records show.

“We want to have faith in and not fear of our public institutions,” said his brother Siavash Mojarrad, “We are left with a lot of questions, and without evidence, we cannot understand Officer Edwards’ story.”

Family members said their law firm in Raleigh, Edwards Kirby, plans to file a lawsuit.

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.

Officer-involved shootings

Wake County has had five officer-involved shootings this year, Freeman said Wednesday. She said these decisions are the hardest her office makes, especially explaining to a grieving family why such a shooting is justified.

“We are now in an era that the expectation is that there is body camera video,” Freeman said. “Those of us in criminal investigations know you don’t always have evidence you’d like to have.”

In 2016, Raleigh Police officer C.D. Twiddy shot Akiel Denkins while trying to serve an arrest warrant near Bragg Street in Southeast Raleigh. Freeman declined to charge the officer, calling it a case of self-defense.

Akiel Denkins and his son, Kashmere. Courtesy of Casanova Womack

Edwards had been pumping gas at the station on the Saturday night of Easter weekend when an employee and a customer told him that a trespassing man had taken the phone. Surveillance cameras later confirmed Mojarrad had taken the phone, according to Freeman’s report.

Edwards got a description and thought he had seen the trespasser leaving the Sheetz, so he began following him to the grassy area near the hedgerow behind the center. At their closest, Freeman said in an interview Wednesday, they stood about 15 feet apart. Studies have shown people can close a 20-foot gap in 1.5 seconds, she said.

Asked if the officer had any non-lethal options, Freeman said: “It’s always difficult to second-guess or evaluate in hindsight in a case like this. The evidence supported what Officer Edwards indicated. Mr. Mojarrad continued to, in a threatening way, wave around a knife.”

Family, friends and activists mourn Soheil Antonio Mojarrad, 30, who died in a fatal encounter with a Raleigh police officer Saturday night in an officer-involved shooting near New Bern Avenue.

Related stories from Durham Herald Sun

Josh Shaffer covers Wake County and federal courts. He has been a reporter for The News & Observer since 2004 and previously wrote a column about unusual people and places.