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Crime & Courts

Family of man shot and killed by Anchorage police is suing the city and officers for $20 million

The mother and brother of a man who was shot and killed by three Anchorage police officers two years ago filed a civil lawsuit in federal court this week asking for $20 million from the municipality, the involved officers and other municipal employees for wrongful death and various civil rights violations.

Bishar Hassan, 31, was shot on April 1, 2019, by officers Nathan Lewis, Matthew Hall and Brett Eggiman. An investigation into the shooting by John Darnall, assistant attorney general for the Office of Special Prosecutions, determined that none of the officers would face criminal charges in Hassan’s death.

Anchorage police do not wear body cameras, but the police vehicles are equipped with dash cameras that capture video of what is happening in front of their vehicles. Because this confrontation unfolded in front of all three police vehicles, it was captured on video.

The civil lawsuit and Office of Special Prosecutions report both cite the video and audio recordings of the confrontation as well as subsequent interviews with the involved officers.

Rex Lamont Butler, the attorney representing Hassan’s family, said the video evidence is the most significant piece of evidence for both parties in this case.

“I think some people will look and see what they want to see,” he said. “But if you take the time to analyze it, it shows a situation without any process whatsoever. This young man is gunned down in the streets.”

Bishar Ali Hassan was killed by police on A Street on Monday, April 1, 2019. (Bill Roth / ADN)

On that day, police were called to an area near the Midtown Walmart because several people reported a man was waving what looked like a black handgun just before 6 p.m. The man got on a bus and shortly afterward, Officer Hall saw Hassan walking toward downtown Anchorage on the west side of A Street and noted that he matched the description of the armed man, Darnall wrote in the Office of Special Prosecutions report.

Hall pulled his patrol SUV onto the sidewalk and Lewis and Eggiman parked alongside.

At the time, police said Hassan began approaching the officers, despite orders to stop walking. The investigative report reiterated that and said Hassan “reached into his right pants waistband and began pulling up (what) appeared to be a handgun.”

Police Chief Justin Doll said in a news conference shortly after the shooting that Hassan pointed the gun in the direction of officers and all three fired at him.

The lawsuit filed by Hassan’s family Wednesday tells a different story of Hassan’s final moments.

Hassan began to walk toward the patrol vehicle but stopped when Hall stepped out of his vehicle and put his hand on his gun, according to the civil complaint.

Hassan told Hall that he had a toy gun and spoke loudly enough that “Hall heard or should have heard” him, the complaint said.

“(Hassan) did not point the toy gun at any of the officers before he was shot,” the complaint said. He was placing it in the palm of his hands to show officers that it was fake when he was shot, Butler said.

Police later identified the fake gun as a Daisy Powerline 340 BB Repeater Pistol, which is modeled after a 9 mm handgun.

“Hall, Lewis and Eggiman continued shooting (Hassan) even after it was obvious or after it should have been obvious to them that (Hassan) had dropped the fake gun and fallen to the ground,” the complaint said.

The officers administered first aid, but Hassan died from the gunshot wounds.

His family said police’s use of force was excessive and unreasonable.

Hassan’s brother, Ahmed Hassan, was on his way to pick up his brother when the confrontation occurred, Butler said. Ahmed Hassan is not seen in any of the dash camera footage during the shooting, but Butler said he watched as his brother was shot repeatedly by the three officers.

“Shortly after the shooting, he’s told to stay back and then after he’s identified as the brother they demand that he go down to the police station,” Butler said. “Can you imagine seeing your brother be killed by police? And then can you imagine them demanding that you go down and talk to them? He doesn’t want to go, he doesn’t want anything to do with them.”

Ahmed Hassan was transported to the station in a police vehicle and held for several hours until police had finished interrogating him, Butler said. Ahmed was dealing with extreme grief and shock in the immediate hours after witnessing his brother’s death, Butler said.

Ahmed Hassan was subjected “to interrogation against his will” and was detained without probable cause, the complaint said.

No charges were filed against Ahmed Hassan. The Office of Special Prosecutions report does not mention that Ahmed Hassan was present during the shooting and police did not mention it at the time, either.

The Anchorage Police Department declined to comment on allegations made in the civil complaint and a representative for the municipality did not respond to a message.

Ahmed Hassan and his mother, Bilay Idiris, are seeking $20 million in compensation for survival and wrongful death damages, the complaint said.

Few civil cases have emerged in Alaska during recent years related to deaths at the hands of law enforcement.

“It certainly is a tall order to take on this fight, but a lack of precedent is not deterring this family,” Butler said.

Last year, the family of 34-year-old Kelly Stephens filed a wrongful death lawsuit after Stephens was shot and killed by an officer. The family agreed to dismiss the lawsuit in December and said they had been seeking information from police about Stephens’ death and felt closure after learning more details.

A civil lawsuit in Anchorage has not centered around an officer-involved shooting in several years. The family of Shane Tasi sued the city and police in 2013 after he was fatally shot by police in 2012. A jury sided with the municipality and police and determined there had not been an excessive use of force.

Hassan’s family was nearing the deadline for the statute of limitations and Butler said “it was now or never” for them to file a civil lawsuit.

Butler said he believes civil litigation is important to change the culture of policing.

“There was no indication that this young man was ever a threat to anyone, but now he’s dead at the hands of law enforcement and we have a problem with that,” he said.

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