SALT LAKE CITY — A Somali refugee shot by police officers at age 17 in a confrontation near a homeless shelter, sparking a riot and criticism of officers, resolved his case stemming from the incident Friday and was terminated from juvenile court.
Abdullahi "Abdi" Mohamed, now 19, admitted to two charges of aggravated assault and attempted possession of a controlled substance, third-degree felonies. A trial in the case had been scheduled to begin Friday.
But based on a report suggesting Mohamed would not take advantage of treatment or services ordered by the juvenile court and therefore should not be committed to secure care, where he could remain only until age 21, the only penalty that 3rd District Juvenile Judge Julie Lund handed down was a $500 fine.
"Abdi, I really want what's best for you, but I also want what's best for the community," Lund said, saying she was frustrated by the situation and agreeing that the man who has been in her courtroom since age 12 has exhausted all the help the juvenile system can offer him.
As she terminated the case, Lund urged Mohamed to voluntarily take advantage of counseling and substance abuse treatment being offered to him, and wished him luck.
Since Mohamed was charged last year, originally facing charges of aggravated robbery, a first-degree felony, and drug possession with intent to distribute, a second-degree felony, prosecutors took on a lengthy battle to move the case to the adult system. Mohamed was retained in juvenile court, however, after his attorneys argued that juvenile court would be able to offer him the best and most appropriate services.
As the deal was presented in court, prosecutor Mike Colby told the judge he was frustrated to see the case terminated without any of the treatment imposed that defense attorneys had argued was so essential for him.
"We heard hours of testimony about why it was critically important he remain in the juvenile system," Colby said. "It defeats the whole purpose of retaining him in juvenile court."
Ahmed Samatar, Mohamed's case worker from the Utah Department of Human Services, told Lund the only way the 19-year-old will actually benefit from help is if he willingly chooses to accept it. As the case closes, Mohamed is being referred to a refugee center where he can seek out treatment, counseling and other services.
In the meantime, Samatar recommended that the best place for Mohamed is with his family, who have been supporting Mohamed and are happy to have him at home.
Mohamed's attorney, Alicia Memmott of the Utah Juvenile Defenders Association, said the severe physical and psychological repercussions of the shooting are the greatest punishment the young man could receive for the crimes he committed. His failure to complete treatment so far doesn't stem from obstinance, she said, but from depression and lingering trauma from the shooting.
With the case resolved, Memmott said, Mohamed will be able to talk openly with family and friends about the shooting in order to begin healing.
"I think he will get into therapy and will get the help he needs, I think it will just take awhile," Memmott said.
Mohamed was shot Feb. 27, 2016, when police said he was attempting to sell drugs near the downtown homeless shelter. When a man refused to give him the $1.10 he was carrying, Mohamed allegedly hit him with a 3-foot aluminum broom handle.
Nearby Salt Lake police officers responded to the incident. Officers Kory Checketts and Jordan Winegar, believing Mohamed was about to assault the man again and because Mohamed disobeyed commands to drop the broom handle and continued to walk toward the man, shot him four times.
Rioting broke out on Rio Grande Street in the aftermath of the shooting, followed by small, sporadic protests over the past year decrying the police department's use of force, Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill's decision not to release the officers' body camera footage and his decision to charge Mohamed in the incident.
Mohamed is now paralyzed and must use a wheelchair. He told Lund on Friday he was intoxicated at the time and remembers little of the incident.
The shooting was determined to be legally justified by Gill's office. A Salt Lake police citizens review board, however, determined that the shooting was not within department policy, even though Mohamed clearly disobeyed officers' commands, the attorney's office report states.
Lund expressed concern Friday that, in light of Mohamed's claim that he doesn't recall assaulting anyone because he was under the influence at the time, he has continued to drink and hasn't taken prescribed medications.
Mohamed disputed the claim, saying he has been unable to pick up refills for his prescriptions and insisting he has mostly stayed home. But the judge pressed him, saying, "Well, the report says that when you're home you're high and drugged."
Mohamed replied with a faint chuckle, "Not all the time."
Mohamed was charged in January with possession of alcohol by a minor, criminal mischief and domestic violence in the presence of a child, class B misdemeanors. And in March he was cited with infractions for public urination and having alcohol in a park. Those cases are ongoing.
Memmott said she believes the allegations stem from Mohamed's ongoing personal battle as he tries to process being shot last year. Closing the juvenile court case that is tied to the event will help give Mohamed a needed resolution and allow him to move forward in his life as an adult.
"What he has said is that he has felt like his life was on hold," Memmott said. "(His life) completely changed that night."