Maricopa County Attorney Rachel Mitchell said Wednesday that the Phoenix police officers who killed Ali Osman, a 34-year-old man who threw stones at a police car, will not face criminal charges.
Mitchell said county prosecutors had reviewed the case and determined that police officers Jesse Johnson and Brennan Olaquer, who shot and killed Osman for throwing stones, were unjustly charged.
“When the officers made the decision to shoot, that decision was reasonable given the power Mr Osman wielded and continues to wield against them,” Mitchell said at a news conference. explained. “Therefore, I will not seek criminal charges against the officers in this matter.”
Osman’s death on Sept. 24 sparked widespread outrage in the community, leading to an $85 million civil lawsuit against the city of Phoenix. County prosecutors have been considering indictments against the police officers involved in the months since.
Civil rights attorney Quarcy Smith, who represents Osman’s family in the lawsuit against Phoenix, said she was unhappy with the decision to release the officers. “That decision was wrong. It was wrong for this family,” he told reporters at his office Wednesday.
Still, it came as little of a shock, he added. “I’m not at all surprised, and that’s the problem,” he said. “We’ve found this to be a problem in Maricopa County.”
“Why can’t I appear before a jury?”
Orakea, Johnson, and a third Phoenix police officer, Jared Gibson, encountered Osman standing on a gravel road along 19th Street and Tucky Lane on Sept. 24. Three police officers drove past, but Olakea and Gibson were in one patrol car and Johnson was in the other.
As the cars passed, Osman threw stones at them, causing minor damage to the exterior of one police car. The police stopped further down the road, were summoned, and decided to return to confront Osman. In body-cam footage released by the Phoenix Police Department, Ms. Olaakea backs up and says, “Let’s get this bastard.”
At least one of the two police cars was equipped with a shotgun that fired so-called “low-lethal” ammunition (not live ammunition), according to a lawsuit filed by Osman’s family. In addition, one of the police officers requested helicopter assistance. However, none of these resources were used when police officers arrived to confront Osman, who was standing alone on the gravel.
Instead, Johnson immediately jumped out of the car and shouted orders to Osman, who threw a stone at Johnson’s shin. Johnson then shot Osman multiple times just seconds after arriving on the scene. Orakea got out of the car at the same time and shot Osman dead.
Officers then waited two minutes before assisting Osman, who died of multiple gunshot wounds, according to the complaint.
Osman and his family arrived in the United States as refugees from Somalia. He grew up in Tucson, then moved to Phoenix, where he briefly ran a successful medical transportation business. However, his friends and family said he struggled with mental health for some time before his death.
On Wednesday, Mitchell extended his condolences to Osman’s family. But she said she believed there was no reasonable chance a jury would convict an officer on charges such as murder or manslaughter, the criteria prosecutors use when reviewing charges.
Osman threw a potentially deadly stone at the officers, Mitchell said, justifying their response. The county attorney showed a photo of a large “river stone” found at the scene, but Mitchell admitted he didn’t know if Osman threw that particular stone.
Smith, the family’s attorney, scoffed at this reasoning. Most of the rock at the site was small gravel, he noted.
“Why not try it before a jury and let the jury decide if the officers’ defense holds up?” Smith asked. “The county attorney single-handedly hijacked the criminal justice process involving these officers.”
Civil lawsuit pending
Mitchell’s announcement Wednesday marked a “horrifying” day for Osman’s family, who have struggled for justice and accountability since his death, Smith said. “It was a tough process,” he added.
Osman’s sister and parents sued the city and police in February over Osman’s death. It sought $85 million in damages from the city. Smith said the legal process is progressing and settlement talks could begin in the coming months.
But, as with other similar cases, even if the city ends up paying Osman’s family millions of dollars, it’s unclear whether the police officers involved will receive any form of disciplinary action over the shooting. Not clear.
An internal police investigation into the incident is ongoing, the sergeant said. Agency spokesman Brian Bower told the Phoenix New Times in an email on Wednesday. The two police officers who shot Osman were “assigned to non-executive duties during the investigation,” he said.
A third police officer involved in the incident is still on patrol.
The ministry has not yet commented on whether it believes the officers have acted out of policy, and it is not clear when a ruling will be handed down in the case.
Osman was one of 10 people shot dead by Phoenix police in 2022. So far this year, Phoenix police officers have shot seven people.