SALT LAKE CITY — Thaer Mahdi says he hasn’t recovered from the barrage of police bullets that ripped through his State Street tailor shop a year ago this month.
Mahdi, an Iraq-born U.S. citizen who immigrated to the United States, was working at Princess Alterations and Leather Work when a white pickup crashed into his store on April 8, 2019. The driver, Harold Vincent Robinson, had just led police on a car chase through the Salt Lake Valley.
Fifteen officers from three police agencies opened fire on Robinson. Dozens and dozens of rounds tore into Mahdi’s shop, and now he’s suing the Salt Lake City Police Department, Unified Police Department and Utah Highway Patrol for the trauma he has suffered.
“Under these circumstances, the fusillade of bullets fired by the defendants is sufficient to shock the conscience, and therefore violative of his 14th Amendment due process right to be free from the use of excessive force by government authorities,” according to the lawsuit filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court.
Mahdi’s shop was torn to shreds. He claims his inventory, machinery, clients’ property and business was destroyed.
“It is nothing short of a miracle that Mr. Mahdi himself was not hit by a bullet,” according to the lawsuit.
Though the gunfire didn’t strike him, Mahdi did not go uninjured.
“His world is shaken, he is a shell of himself, he cannot work or sleep, and these psychological issues are beginning to manifest themselves physically as well including in the form of a persistent, annoying, and entirely disruptive buzzing sound inside of his head,” according to the lawsuit.
In February, Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill found that the 10 Salt Lake police officers, three Utah Highway Patrol troopers and two Unified police officers were all legally justified in the use of deadly force.
The 196 shots they fired is consistent with the number of officers who took aim at Robinson, he said.
“It was a massive show of force,” Gill said in February. “But considering the complexity of the situation and the risk that was put to our community, I think those officers under those circumstances acted as professionally as they could.”
Robinson randomly fired at least 50 shots from his moving truck as police pursued him through Salt Lake City and South Salt Lake. No bystanders were struck. Police killed Robinson outside the tailor shop at 3339 S. State.
The lawsuit contends that despite the modern-day reality that criminals will lead police officers on car chases across multiple jurisdictions, the agencies failed to train, retrain or otherwise address the use of appropriate force in those types of incidents.
The result, according to the lawsuit, is “deliberate indifference” to the rights and possible injury of innocent bystanders such as Mahdi.
The fact that 15 officers from three agencies immediately began firing at Robinson and into Mahdi’s business for about 20 seconds, resulting in hundreds of rounds being fired, makes it “patently obvious” that the required policies and training have not been developed and implemented, the lawsuit says
It should have been obvious to police that Mahdi was within the zone of danger when they unleashed the barrage of gunfire that ultimately changed his life forever, the lawsuit says.
The suit accuses police of “groupthink,” claiming they had no regard for anyone who may have been inside the building, exhibited by the number of officers who unloaded their clips of bullets into Mahdi’s shop without a second thought.
Mahdi moved to the United States in 2009 from Iraq after surviving many wars in his home country, including death threats and assassination attempts from insurgents due to his work as a tailor for the U.S. military in the 2003-05 time period, the lawsuit says.
The shooting last year brought all of that trauma to the forefront once again. The distress he has suffered and the devastation of his business will force him into an early retirement after 40 years as a tailor, according to the lawsuit. The loss of his shop has cost hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost income.
“After the incident, he attempted many times to come to the shop and reestablish his business,” the lawsuit says. “He could never bring himself to cross beyond the threshold of the door.”