The family of a Johns Creek woman who was shot and killed by police after suffering a mental breakdown two years ago has filed a lawsuit against the officers involved.
Shukri Ali Said, 36, was shot five times after police said she refused to drop a knife during an encounter with officers near Abbots Bridge and Sweet Creek roads.
According to the federal lawsuit filed last week, the Somalia-born U.S. citizen left her home the morning of April 28, 2018, after telling her sister she was hearing voices and needed to run away.
Said had a history of mental illness, including bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, her family said in the lawsuit. Her sister, Aisha Hussein, called 911 that morning hoping officers would be able to get Said to a hospital for help.
Instead, Said was killed after being repeatedly shot by police.
Johns Creek officers encountered the woman walking near Northview High School and, according to then-Capt. Chris Byers, “several attempts were made to de-escalate the encounter through the use of less lethal force,” AJC.com previously reported.
Those efforts included the use of a Taser and a foam impact round, said Byers, who now serves as the department’s police chief. But Said refused to drop a knife she was holding, prompting two of the officers to open fire, authorities said.
The 36-year-old was pronounced dead at Emory Johns Creek Hospital a short time later.
The officers involved in the case — Derrick Wilson, Ken Kennebrew, Phil Nguyen and Richard Gray — were eventually cleared of any wrongdoing by Internal Affairs and returned to full duty, Johns Creek officials said previously.
All four are named as defendants in the lawsuit, along with the city of Johns Creek.
Johns Creek police said Thursday that three of the officers still work for the department full time. Gray has since retired but remains a part-time member of the department’s reserve officer program, Capt. Todd Hood said.
The department also declined to make any statements about the 2018 shooting or the subsequent lawsuit, deferring all questions to the DA’s office.
In a statement announcing the lawsuit, the Georgia chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations said while nothing can replace Said’s life, the organization is hopeful her family will get justice for her death.
“Police brutality, particularly against communities of color, continues to be an ever-growing stain on the fabric of our nation,” said Murtaza Khwaja, CAIR’s legal and policy director. “For too long, far too many black lives and dreams have been shattered by the actions of hyper-militarized police officers who escape justice for excessive force.”
Last year, the Fulton County District Attorney’s Office said its investigation into the officer-involved shooting was hindered by the refusal of two of the officers — Nguyen and Gray — to speak with DA investigators.
Byers said the department does not compel its officers to do so, requiring only that they agree to interviews with Internal Affairs.
Said’s death attracted national attention at the time, with many believing, as Hussein does, that had her sister been a white housewife with a knife, the officers would not have fired their weapons.
“She is clearly of African descent, she’s wearing Abaya, Islamic attire, she’s fully covered, and she is irrational, saying ‘I’ve got to go home. I’ve got to go home,’” Hussein told AJC.com last year. “I feel like … if her Islamic identity wasn’t so dominant, it might have been handled differently. Race and religion clearly played a big part in it.”
According to the lawsuit, police fired their weapons at Said on two occasions. Three bullets hit her the first time. She gasped for air, clutched her chest and fell to the ground. After managing to get back up, she was shot twice more.
“At the time of the second shooting, Ms. Said was moving slowly, obviously injured, disoriented, and unable to respond to any further commands,” the lawsuit states.
According to Said’s autopsy, the five gunshots perforated her lungs, her liver, her pancreas and her right kidney. The lawsuit also alleges that no sooting or stippling was found on Said’s body, implying that the officers were standing far enough away from her when they fired that they weren’t in any immediate danger.
“For us, it’s an important question because we’re already upset at how it escalated in the beginning, but we’re especially curious how a 5-foot-4 woman who had been shot three times was such a physical threat she had to be shot two more times,” said Edward Mitchell, executive director of CAIR’s Georgia chapter.
The lawsuit filed against the city alleges that the officers were aware Said was experiencing a mental breakdown and shouldn’t have expected her to respond to their demands the way a “normal” person might have.