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Man killed by Connecticut state trooper was having mental health problems, witnesses testify

In the days before he was killed by a Connecticut state trooper, Mubarak Soulemane's mental health problems were worsening while his behavior turned erratic and paranoid — a situation his family had experienced before as they struggled to ensure he r
FILE - This Jan. 15, 2020, image taken from dashboard camera video released by the Connecticut State Police, shows Trooper Brian North, left, after he discharged his weapon beside a vehicle stopped in West Haven, Conn. Jury selection is scheduled to begin Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2024, in North's trial. North has pleaded not guilty to first-degree manslaughter with a firearm in the death of Mubarak Soulemane in West Haven. (Connecticut State Police via AP, File)

In the days before he was killed by a Connecticut state trooper, Mubarak Soulemane's mental health problems were worsening while his behavior turned erratic and paranoid — a situation his family had experienced before as they struggled to ensure he received the best medication and took it, witnesses testified Monday.

Soulemane's mother, sister and girlfriend took the stand in Milford, Connecticut, on the first day of the trial of Trooper Brian North, who is charged with first-degree manslaughter with a firearm in the fatal shooting of Soulemane on Jan. 15, 2020. North has pleaded not guilty and denies any misconduct.

North, 33, fired seven shots at close range into the driver's window of a stopped car as Soulemane sat in the driver's seat with a 9-inch kitchen knife. Several police cruisers had boxed in the stolen car in West Haven after a rush-hour chase through several towns on Interstate 95 that reached speeds of 100 mph (161 kph).

North told authorities he believed he was protecting police officers on the other side of the car from Soulemane and the knife, but state Inspector General Robert Devlin concluded none of the officers were in imminent danger and filed the manslaughter charge.

Soulemane's girlfriend, Julia Johnson, said they had a loving relationship for about six months and she had never seen him become violent until days before his death. At the time, they lived in New Haven.

“There was a physical altercation,” she testified. “He bit my tongue, and when I moved away it seemed like he didn’t realize what he had done. He seemed like outside of his body, like he said that he would never hurt me and he was confused.”

The night before he was killed, Johnson said Soulemane's behavior raised concerns.

"I asked him if he wanted to go to the hospital. I offered to take him to the hospital. I asked him if he wanted to call a family member. ... He did not want to do that. ... At one point throughout the evening, he admitted that he was in a psychosis,” she testified.

Soulemane's mother, Omo Mohammed, and his sister, Mariyann Soulemane, testified that Soulemane had been diagnosed with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, first displaying severe symptoms in high school at age 15. They said there were several times when he didn't take his medicine.

“It’s hard for Mubarak in the beginning because he’s fighting the sickness,” Mohammed said. “Even with that sickness, he was able to graduate with that sickness. .. There are times that it is hard for him to take his medicine.”

Mariyann Soulemane said her brother would be stable when taking his medication, but he would not take it all the time.

“So we would be kind of in and out of the ER unfortunately when the manic episodes arose,” she said during direct examination by Devlin. “It was just a constant readjustment of medication and best efforts to get him to take it consistently.”

On the day of his death, police said Mubarak Soulemane displayed the knife at an AT&T store in Norwalk, and unsuccessfully tried to steal a cell phone. Police said he then assaulted a Lyft driver and drove off in the driver's car when the driver got out, leading police on a 30-mile (48-kilometer) chase from Norwalk to West Haven.

Norwalk officers had ended the pursuit on I-95 because of the high speed and heavy traffic, and the fact that no violent crime occurred. State police continued the pursuit, after receiving false information that the car theft was a carjacking.

The chase ended when Soulemane exited the highway, struck a civilian's car and was boxed in by troopers and local police in West Haven. Police said the officers ordered him out of the car, but he refused.

State police body camera videos show a West Haven officer smashing out the passenger door window of the stolen vehicle before another trooper shoots Soulemane with a Taser, which didn’t work.

North then fired his handgun into the car when Soulemane displayed the knife, state police said.

In a statement to investigators, North said “the suspect was moving and holding the knife in an aggressive manner, and appeared to me to be preparing to attack” the other officers, whom he believed were entering the car to take Soulemane into custody.

Devlin, however, concluded the shooting was not justified.

“At the time Trooper North fired his weapon, neither he nor any other person was in imminent danger of serious injury or death from a knife attack at the hands of Soulemane,” the report said. “Further, any belief that persons were in such danger was not reasonable.”

North had been on the state police force for five years at the time of the shooting. He is being represented by attorney Frank Riccio II.

Soulemane’s family, the NAACP and other groups said North, who is white, should not have shot Soulemane, who was Black, because police had him surrounded and he could not get away. Despite having a knife, Soulemane was inside the car by himself and police should have attempted to de-escalate the situation, they said.

Souleman's mother has a pending lawsuit against police over the killing.

Dave Collins, The Associated Press