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Family of Somali man gunned down by Phoenix Police calls for justice

Wednesday October 5, 2022

Phoenix attorney Quacy Smith holds rocks similar to the ones police said Ali Osman threw at them before they shot and killed him. Katya Schwenk

A crowd of hundreds of people assembled at the Islamic Community Center of Tempe, heads bowed in prayer, on Friday. Friends, family, and community members gathered to pay their respects to Ali Osman, a man who was shot and killed days earlier by Phoenix police.

In the days since police officers killed Osman, a 34-year-old Black Muslim man, his family has been calling for justice and transparency. After the funeral procession on September 30, they rallied outside the mosque to demand that police release more details about what happened, including body camera footage from officers at the incident.

"The disregard that this family has been shown by this police department is beyond the pale," said Quacy Smith, the family's attorney.

The services for Osman, a Somali refugee who had lived in Arizona since he was a teenager, showed how deeply his death has touched Somali and Muslim residents in the Valley. "The Somali community and the Muslim community at large have wrapped their arms around this family," Smith said. After the services, the mosque's imam, Omar Tawil, and Azza Abuseif, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations of Arizona, called for justice for Osman.

These Aren't Boulders'

Phoenix police officers killed Osman on September 24 after the law enforcement agency said he threw rocks at their patrol cars. The Phoenix Police Department has provided little information about the circumstances that led to his death. A police spokesperson told New Times that the agency will release body cam footage from the incident by October 8.

According to police, officers encountered Osman at the intersection of 19th Avenue and Tuckey Lane in northwest Phoenix at around 6:45 p.m. on September 24. He allegedly threw rocks at two patrol cars as they drove past him. Officers stopped to discuss the incident, and then returned to the intersection. Osman continued throwing rocks, which spurred officers to fire, police said.

Osman did not have any other weapons, at least according to information that has been released so far by police. Witness video taken moments before the shooting shows three patrol cars gathered at the scene while a bystander begs to intervene to "de-escalate" the situation.

Omar Tawil, imam at the Islamic Community Center of Tempe, called for justice for Ali Osman after his funeral on September 30. Katya Schwenk

Police shot Osman at least three times in the neck, according to a preliminary autopsy conducted by the family's legal team, Smith said during a press conference on Thursday. He cautioned that the family's investigation, which includes a private investigator, was still in its early stages.

At the press conference, Smith held up two bags of rocks that were collected from the scene of the shooting. Osman was standing near a small strip of gravel along 19th Avenue, according to video from witnesses. Most of the rocks in that area are about an inch long. "Ninety-nine percent of all the rocks of the scene, this is the size," Smith told the press. "These aren't boulders."

Family Demands Answers

Phoenix police have not released details about the rocks Osman allegedly threw at officers. "As always, the city of Phoenix Police Department is committed to our transparency policy and all body-worn cameras will be released within 14 days of the incident," Sgt. Brian Bower, a spokesperson for Phoenix police, told New Times. The department typically releases a substantially edited video, with narration from police officers, instead of the raw footage in such incidents.

Smith called the lack of information about the shooting an "embarrassment" and said police should provide unedited footage from the shooting immediately to the family. "Mr. Osman's family and I believe that that policy falls short of transparency. The longer you wait, the more questions you leave for this family," he said.

The family's legal team filed a notice of claim — a precursor to a lawsuit — against the city following Osman's burial, Smith said. The notice alleged wrongful death and violations of Osman's constitutional rights. It's hardly the first such lawsuit the city has faced. In November, the city settled a lawsuit over the death of Muhammad Muhaymin, a Black Muslim man who died during an arrest, for $5 million.

At the services on Friday, Osman was remembered as a loyal friend who was closely involved with his community. He also struggled with mental health issues for years. He "needed help," those who knew him told New Times after he was killed.

Loay Alyousfi said the police killing of his close friend Ali Osman "makes no sense." Katya Schwenk

Loay Alyousfi, who commented that he was a close friend — like a brother — to Osman, said during the press conference that he was deeply grieving. "He took me under his wing when I was going through stuff in my life. I slept on his couch, and then he said, 'No, sleep on my bed,' and he slept on his couch," Alyousfi recalled. There was no justification for police to shoot him over rocks, he added. "It makes absolutely no sense."

Osman had planned to fly to Kenya to visit his mother on September 27 — three days after he was killed. He hadn't seen her in 17 years, Smith said. Since he moved to the U.S. at age 14, he had been raised by his sister, Halima. But Osman never made it to the flight.

"Instead of flying to Kenya, his body was driven to a mortuary," Smith said. 


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