A May 2020 officer-involved shooting in Evans County is no longer under investigation, following a determination by authorities that there was no evidence of wrongdoing in the case.
The incident, which resulted in the death of Yassin Mohamed, garnered headlines after media reports revealed that law enforcement officials encountered Mohamed several times in the days leading up to the shooting and that his apparent state of mental distress was not enough for a local hospital to admit him at the request of a concerned deputy. Over the course of several months, the case was investigated by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and reviewed by an area District Attorney’s Office before the deputy was ultimately exonerated and permitted to return to work.
The Georgia Virtue requested the case file at the conclusion of the investigation after reporting on the matter at length in early 2020.
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation was contacted on May 9, 2020 after an Evans County deputy fired a duty weapon upon 47-year-old Yassin Mohamed in unincorporated Evans County. Preliminary information from the GBI indicated multiple encounters between Mohamed and law enforcement in the days and immediate 12 hours leading up to the shooting, culminating in an incident in which Mohamed reportedly threw rocks at the deputy, striking him once. According to the GBI, Mohamed then charged the deputy with one of the rocks, at which time the deputy fired his service weapon three times. Mohamed was pronounced dead at the scene and an autopsy was conducted.
Records obtained by the media showed a violent encounter with the Claxton Police Department hours ahead of the shooting, but both evening interactions resulted in courtesy rides to his residence, citing concerns about taking an individual to jail during the COVID-19 pandemic. Dash camera video systems were not working on any of the three vehicles driven by ECSO deputies who interacted with Mohamed on the day of the shooting. English was not the first language for Mohamed and communication was, at times, an issue.
Investigation & Case File
The GBI handled the investigation from the start, arriving on the scene within hours of the shooting to collect evidence, speak with witnesses, and take pictures.
Sgt Stephen Jernigan of the Evans County Sheriff’s Office was interviewed by the GBI and reported that he responded to the scene, despite being off-duty, because of the close proximity to his home. He told agents that he heard the ‘shots fired’ call over the radio and he drove his truck to the location. He stated that Lt. Brewton was in his vehicle and the deputy was standing near the subject. Though he was unable to find a pulse, Jernigan attempted life-saving measures until EMS arrived.
The deputy involved in the incident spoke with the GBI voluntarily around 3:18 a.m. on the night of the shooting. He explained that he had interacted with Mohamed twice that evening prior to the shooting, including after the violent incident with CPD, and both times Lt. Brewton drove Mohamed to his home.
Just before 1:00 AM., the deputy was dispatched to the area on Hwy 169 in reference to a man in the road. The narrative, as told by the deputy and transcribed by the GBI case agent, is as follows:
[The deputy] stated that he arrived and made several passes through that area and was unable to locate the male. [The deputy] noted that it was very dark in this area; however, he finally located a male in the middle of the road on Highway 169 whom he recognized as MOHAMED. [The deputy] advised that when he exited his patrol car, he told MOHAMED to get out of the road. MOHAMED looked at him briefly and then began running away from him in the road. [The deputy] added that he observed MOHAMED turn left down a residential driveway, which was later identified as 16145 SR-169, Claxton GA.
[The deputy] stated that because of the erratic behavior he had observed from MOHAMED in dealing with him previously, he was concerned that he may try to gain access into the residence which could place MOHAMED and anyone inside the home in danger. [The deputy] stated that he drove his patrol car closer to the driveway before getting out and chasing MOHAMED toward the house. [The deputy] advised that he gave MOHAMED several loud verbal commands to stop and get on the ground, but he did not comply. [The deputy] stated that once MOHAMED got closer to the house, he bent down and picked up several rocks from the driveway and started throwing them at [The deputy] while he doubled back up the driveway and away from the house. [The deputy] stated that one of the rocks struck him on his left chest on the ballistic vest. [The deputy] stated that he drew his weapon at that point and continued to give MOHAMED verbal commands to stop and drop the rocks, which MOHAMED ignored. [The deputy] added that he was concerned that if one of the rocks hit him in the face or head he may be injured or lose consciousness and be unable to defend himself against MOHAMED.
[The deputy] then stated that he backed away from MOHAMED to maintain distance from him as he was trying to get his Taser out with his nondominant hand. [The deputy] explained that he wears his Taser on his vest in a cross-draw position and that, with his firearm in his dominant hand, he was unable to draw his Taser. [The deputy] stated that as he attempted to draw his Taser while backing away, MOHAMED picked up a bigger rock and charged at him with it in his hand.
[The deputy] advised that MOHAMED charged him very quickly with an “intense look on his face,” and the rock raised over his head, while making a motion as if he were going to throw the rock at him. [The deputy] stated that, “it was obvious that [MOHAMED] wanted to hurt me” and MOHAMED repeatedly ignored his commands to stop, drop the rock, and get on the ground. [The deputy] noted that he believes that he communicated that MOHAMED was assaulting him with rocks to dispatch via radio. [The deputy] stated that when MOHAMED got approximately 3 to 4 feet away from him, he fired three rapid shots from his firearm… [The deputy] stated that after the shots, MOHAMED dropped to the ground on his knees and was bent at the waist with his head on the ground. [The deputy] stated that he advised over the radio that shots had been fired and he called for EMS. [The deputy] stated that he checked MOHAMED for a pulse on his neck but did not find one.
Radio traffic, a statement to the GBI from Lt. Brewton, and a statement to the GBI by CPD Officer Dustin Skipper corroborate that the deputy did relay over the radio that Mohamed was throwing rocks at him and even told him to stop “or I’ll shoot [you].” Brewton told GBI agents that Mohamed, on the multiple occasions he interacted with him, exhibited “extremely paranoid behavior and stated that people were trying to kill him.” Brewton also told agents that he “believed that Evans County Sheriff Randall Tippins would not appreciate having Mohamed in the jail for those charges due to the Coronavirus.”
At least three other witnesses cited in the investigation file after speaking with GBI agents shared that they believed Mohamed was suffering from a mental health crisis when they interacted with him on May 8. A doctor from Evans Memorial told GBI agents that Mohamed was given an antipsychotic medication before he was discharged from the ER earlier in the day, but that he did not appear to be a threat to himself or others so he could not treat him.
The ECSO deputy was interviewed by the GBI again on May 12 and told agents at that time that he was frustrated that Mohamed was not taken to jail on the charges from the violent incident with Claxton Police where he was wrestled to the ground after hitting a police car with a pipe. He told agents that Lt. Brewton told him “the sheriff would have a fit” if they charged him and housed him in the jail. He said he did not press the issue, however, because Brewton was his supervisor.
The report concluded that Mohamed was three to four feet away from the deputy when he fired three shots, using his right hand only because he was still trying to use his nondominant hand to try to draw out his Taser. He stated that MOHAMED was, “[…] coming at him with a full head of steam.”
The District Attorney’s Office
On June 18, before the file was turned over from the GBI for review, Atlantic Judicial Circuit District Attorney Tom Durden requested the Georgia Attorney General’s Office assign the case to another district attorney’s office, citing a conflict of interest, and the Middle Judicial Circuit District Attorney’s Office took on the case. District Attorney Hayward Altman, who has since retired, was responsible for reviewing the GBI findings.
On June 30, the GBI turned over the case file to the District Attorney’s Office by email. On July 2, 2020, the file and all attachments and supporting evidence were hand-delivered.
On July 9, 2020, GBI agents met with the District Attorney’s office, two members of Mohamed’s family, and Murtaza Khwaja, the legal and policy director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations. The meeting was scheduled at the request of Altman, who allowed the family to ask questions about the case before they were informed that the case was still being reviewed and a decision would be released by him at a later time.
On November 13, 2020, Agent Christian Johnson closed the case file, citing a letter from Altman dated November 9, 2020 finding no evidence of wrongdoing. “It is my opinion that no criminal charges will be forthcoming, and the actions of the deputy were justified,” Altman wrote.
What are Evans County Sheriff’s Office deputies equipped with on duty?
According to the Evans County Sheriff’s Office at the time of the shooting, deputies were equipped with the following:
- Glock .40 cal semi-auto pistol w/ 3 magazines and ammo
- Taser x26
- OC Spray
- Portable radio
- 12 gauge shotgun
The Use of Force continuum as published by the National Institute of Justice does not require a law enforcement officer to go through each level of force before escalating to the next level of force. Additionally, officers, like citizens, are not taught to ‘shoot to injure’ or ‘shoot to kill,’ but rather ‘shoot to stop the threat.’ More on that here, here, and here.
Media Coverage of the Shooting
The story was covered internationally, garnering incomplete coverage by The Daily Mail and MetroUk. The more specific details made available from the Claxton Police Department do refute an early narrative by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) which contends that Mohamed was targeted because of his race, his Muslim faith, and for ‘jaywalking.’ One CAIR director called the shooting “identical” to the Ahmaud Arbery incident, the Glynn County shooting from February 2020 that made headlines for a number of reasons, to include the invocation of the ‘citizens arrest’ statute, the conflicts of interest by the District Attorney’s Office, and the lack of investigatory action by prosecutors.