New Developments in the Death of Fridoon Nehad

SDPD failure to even question the officer highlights need for increased transparency and accountability for police violence

SAN DIEGO – This week, Voice of San Diego released a sworn deposition by San Diego Police Department Officer Neal Browder, taken during a civil wrongful death case filed by Fridoon Nehad’s family. This release provided a glimpse into how the department handles investigations when unarmed civilians are shot and killed by police – information the public generally does not have access to under current law. We learned shockingly that SDPD’s internal investigation unit did not even interview Officer Browder about the shooting of Nehad, nor did he receive training or a reprimand for admittedly breaking department policy.

This information demonstrates the need for transparency when it comes to how departments handle investigations involving serious uses of force.  SB 1286 (Leno) would have allowed the type of information shared in the deposition to be made available to the public without the need for a civil suit, but was killed in committee this year by state leadership. It is imperative that we hold departments like SDPD responsible when they fail to hold officers accountable for their actions because lack of information and secrecy deteriorates public trust. How can we believe that law enforcement leadership will police itself when incidents like this come to light?

Fridoon Nehad, an Afghan army veteran, had been battling mental illness and PTSD at the time of his death. Officer Browder, who was responding to a 911 call that mistakenly reported that Nehad was carrying a knife, shot and killed Nehad within two to three seconds of encountering him.  SDPD initially claimed Nehad had a knife and charged at Officer Browder. However, because the shooting was captured on video, we know this isn’t true. Nehad held only a pen, and never charged or threatened Officer Browder.

The release of the deposition comes after a string of disappointments in the accountability mechanisms designed to ensure officers’ actions are thoroughly evaluated.  Last month, NBC 7 San Diego reported that the Department of Justice (DOJ) has decided not to file civil rights charges against Officer Browder for killing Nehad.  We already knew that the District Attorney’s office declined to charge Officer Browder with any crimes related to the shooting.

The public should be offended by what sadly comes across as stunning indifference by local authorities in this officer-involved shooting. Unfortunately, it is not at all surprising, given the DA’s eagerness to blame Nehad for his own death, most visibly on display at a highly publicized press conference. The DOJ’s decision not to charge Officer Browder, along with the details from the newly publicized deposition, are disappointing reminders of how difficult it is to hold officers accountable for their use of deadly force against unarmed civilians.

The San Diego ACLU stands in support of the Nehad family and all those who have lost family members to unnecessary escalation and use of deadly force. Increased accountability and policies that will prevent more needless deaths are critically vital at this moment in our national dialogue about police practices. We will continue to fight for policies like SB 1286 that will allow for transparency and accountability.

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