Blue Line

Man fatally shot by N.L. police needed help and didn’t get it, friend says

June 27, 2023  By The Canadian Press

June 27, 2023, St. John’s, Nfld. – A Sudanese man fatally shot by police in Newfoundland and Labrador came to Canada hoping to find a better life, but he never got the help he needed, his friend says.

Choul William was audibly emotional Tuesday as he described how Omar Mohammed bounced in and out of a mental-health hospital in St. John’s, only to be released into a city where he didn’t have a permanent home or job. Mohammed was a former child soldier who had serious mental-health issues stemming from extreme trauma, William said.

William and Newfoundland and Labrador’s Sudanese community waited more than two weeks for officials to confirm Tuesday that Mohammed was shot by a Royal Newfoundland Constabulary officer in St. John’s on the morning of June 12.

“Why did they shoot him when they know he has mental problems?” William said, adding that Mohammed thought life in Canada, and Newfoundland, would be better than in Sudan. “He thought he was going to get good treatment and everything in his life is going to be changed.”

The province’s police watchdog agency – Serious Incident Response Team or SIRT-NL – first issued a news release about the shooting on June 12, saying it was investigating what happened. A follow-up release said a civilian man had been killed in an “officer-involved shooting,” and the officer had been injured. Neither news releases mentioned Mohammed by name. The agency said last week in a third release that the victim was a new Canadian and that it had been struggling to contact his next of kin.

William said he was sharing a single rented room with Mohammed when he was killed, adding that his friend made what little money he had returning recyclables. The two met at a ceremony for new Canadians in 2014, and after some time in Canada, Mohammed wanted to go back home, William said.

On the morning of the shooting, Mohammed went to the grocery store and made breakfast, William said. They ate together, and then they set out for the day. Mohammed never came home. When William saw news stories about the shooting, he phoned the police to report Mohammed missing and to ask if his friend was the man who had been shot.

He was without answers from authorities until Tuesday afternoon.

Abubaker Hamed said he and other members of the Sudanese Community Association had also been asking police if Mohammed had been involved in the shooting. The group had assembled a small team to go to the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary’s headquarters in St. John’s to inquire and had also contacted SIRT-NL after police told them to do so, he said in an interview Tuesday.

The Sudanese community is “anxious” and deeply concerned about the shooting, he said.

“Considering that (Mohammed) has a history of mental illness, they are very worried, like why police are using excessive force to deal with a member of the Sudanese community?” Hamed said, adding that they wonder if racism was involved.

He said he felt some relief Tuesday when SIRT-NL contacted members of the community to confirm Mohammed was the man killed, and to explain their investigation into the shooting.

Mohammed was convicted last year in provincial court for charges including sexual assault and possession of a weapon for a dangerous purpose. As of June 1, he was wanted on an outstanding warrant for breaching court orders, according to a news release at that time from the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary.

SIRT-NL said Tuesday it was unable to notify Mohammed’s family about his death.

“We have now confirmed the identity of the deceased with his closest friend and roommate. We have also reached out to other members of the Sudanese community,” the release said, noting that SIRT-NL’s investigation into the shooting was ongoing.

William said he, too, was relieved when officials confirmed Mohammed’s identity. He said he is now searching for a lawyer who will investigate and help him fight for his friend.

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