Police Mocked Black Man’s Muslim Faith As They Killed Him
(HuffPost) - “Allah? He’s not going to help you right now,” an officer told Muhammad Muhaymin Jr. as he was being pinned down with a knee on his neck.
Newly revealed body camera footage released on Wednesday captured the final moments of Muhammad Muhaymin Jr., a Black Muslim man, before he was killed by Phoenix police in 2017.
The graphic nine-minute video shows 43-year-old Muhaymin pinned down by several Phoenix police officers, with at least one officer placing his knee on Muhaymin’s back and neck. Although the transcript was previously reported, this is the first time the public is seeing raw footage of an officer mocking Muhaymin’s faith.
Muhaymin’s death, which is eerily similar to the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, took place in January 2017, but is now being revisited in the wake anti-racism protests and national outrage over the targeting of Black people by law enforcement. Advocates and Muhaymin’s family said that three years after his murder, they are still waiting for justice.
To date, none of the officers involved in Muhaymin’s death ― identified as Oswald Grenier, Jason Hobel, Ronaldo Canilao, David Head, Susan Heimbigner, Kevin McGowan, James Clark, Dennis Leroux, Ryan Nielsen and supervisor Steven Wong ― have been arrested or charged. All of the officers are still employed by the Phoenix Police Department.
Throughout the horrifying video, Muhaymin can be heard crying out in pain as several officers pin him down and cuff him. Halfway through the video, Muhaymin is heard saying “I can’t breathe” multiple times.
“Please, Allah,” Muhaymin says as the police officers cuff him.
“Allah? He’s not going to help you right now,” one of the officers responds as he holds Muhaymin down. “Just relax.”
“Please help me,” Muhaymin says several times again.
In previous videos, Muhaymin can be seen vomiting before his body goes limp.
“I don’t feel a pulse,” an officer can be heard saying off-camera.
“Oh, he’s dead,” said another before he turns his camera off.
The medical examiner’s office later ruled Muhaymin’s death a homicide by cardiac arrest, aggravated by “coronary artery disease, psychiatric disease, acute methamphetamine intoxication, and physical exertion during law enforcement subdual.” The family’s expert witness, a forensic pathologist, disagreed, concluding that “asphyxiation due to compression of his trunk and body” — not underlying conditions or drug use — was the cause of death.
After publication of this story, the Phoenix Police Department responded to HuffPost’s request for comment, offering its interpretation of the officer’s “Allah” statement. The department claimed that officers “did not mock or target Mr. Muhaymin based on his religion, race, or any other factor.” The spokesperson claimed the officer’s words were, “Allah? We’re trying to help you right now dude so relax.”
In the videos, officers are also heard calling Muhaymin a “motherfucker” and a “dumbass.”
“Our law enforcement officers are trained to diffuse [sic] situations where possible, which was also done with Mr. Muhaymin,” the spokesperson said. The department’s response made no mention of the fact that Muhaymin died.
Also after publication, a spokesperson for the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office told HuffPost that the investigation into Muhaymin’s death ended after “a determination was made at that time to not file criminal charges against the officers.”
“Should a law enforcement agency submit the case to our office for a second review, we would then review any new facts and evidence and determine if criminal charges are warranted,” the spokesperson added.
The mayor’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
“The murder was violent and brutal and disturbing and the circumstances surrounding how police killed Muhammad Muhaymin Jr. are abhorrent,” said Scott Simpson, public advocacy director at Muslim Advocates. “They profiled him because of his race, they disregarded his disability, they mocked his Muslim faith and they treated him as subhuman because of his income, and it’s just inexcusable.”
Denied Restroom Over A Service Dog
On Jan. 4, 2017, Muhaymin attempted to enter a public restroom with his service dog at local community service center, but was denied because of his dog. In the video previously released by police, Muhaymin is seen explaining to the employee and later police that he couldn’t leave behind his service dog, Chiquita.
Muhaymin, who suffered from mental illness, heavily relied on Chiquita. His family told local reporters that he was rarely seen without her and that Chiquita helped alleviate some of his mental illness symptoms. According to a lawsuit his family filed against the officers and the city, Muhaymin had post-traumatic stress disorder, acute claustrophobia and schizophrenia.
The employee proceeded to call the police as Muhaymin used the restroom. Upon their arrival, police discovered that Muhaymin had a warrant for missing a court date on a charge of misdemeanor possession of a marijuana pipe, a charge he received after being stopped for jaywalking in 2016.
From there, the situation quickly escalated.
A Spiritual Man With A Big Personality
Three years later, Muhaymin’s sister Mussalina Muhaymin said her family has been left traumatized and without closure, and that her life hasn’t been the same since.
“This has changed the course of who we are, it’s changed our whole belief system,” Mussalina told HuffPost.
Muhammad was born in New York, but the family later moved to Maryvale, Arizona. He was the youngest brother to three older sisters, and a father.
“The biggest thing that I love about him was his big personality. He was funny, and a fun person to spend time with, and he kept you laughing. He was my protective little brother,” Mussalina said.
The Muhaymin family is suing the city and is expecting to go to trial early next year. Dozens of national and local civil rights and social justice organizations have called for the firing of the police officers involved, and for Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego and Maricopa County District Attorney Allister Adel to appoint a criminal prosecutor with no conflicts of interest to investigate Muhaymin’s death.
“We see in Muhammad’s case a very disgusting cruelty and mocking of him and his faith as he was calling for help,” said Viri Hernandez, the executive director of Poder in Action, a Phoenix advocacy group. “So all of that for us has been extremely heartbreaking to see, but also infuriating to know that that police continue to be working in our communities.”
According to a review conducted by the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office, the Phoenix Police Department’s internal probe determined that the officers “did not commit any act that warrants criminal prosecution.”
Mussalina Muhaymin is still waiting for justice for her brother. She said her family hasn’t recovered from his loss.
“The way that [the officers] spoke to him, the way that they treated him, they dehumanized him. And then afterward the narratives that they put out dehumanized him and put out the perception that he was just a homeless guy with mental health issues,” she told HuffPost.
“But he was so much more than that. [The police] made an assumption about who this person is based on his appearance as a Black male and his name Muhammad Muhaymin Jr. But this is who he is. I want to paint that true picture of who he is, not based on the assumptions.”