This post has been updated.

Fridoon Rawshan Nehad’s family always feared that he would die a tragic death.

After Nehad’s Afghan military unit went missing during the country’s wars in the 1980s, Nehad’s father checked the lists of dead at hospitals. When the family discovered that mujahedeen rebels had captured Nehad, his mother went into enemy territory to rescue him. Soon after, Nehad’s parents smuggled him out of Afghanistan with the rest of his family following months later.

About a decade ago, Nehad and his family reunited in the United States. But his parents and sisters soon discovered a new threat. Nehad was mentally ill and his violent outbursts had at times threatened his immigration status. Nehad’s sister, Benazeer Roshan, worried he’d be deported back to Afghanistan and killed by the Taliban because of his mental illness.

“But never in America,” Roshan told me.

Photo courtesy of Nehad family
Photo courtesy of Nehad family
Fridoon Rawshan Nehad

But it did happen here. Early in the morning on April 30, San Diego police officer Neal Browder shot and killed Nehad while he was having a manic episode in a Midway District alleyway. Browder was responding to a 911 call of a knife-wielding man threatening people. Nehad turned out to be unarmed.

We Stand Up for You. Will You Stand Up for Us?

The entire incident was caught on surveillance video, but for months San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, the City Council, Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman and District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis refused to release the footage.

Last week, Dumanis made the video and other selected evidence from the case public after a federal court judge cleared the way for their release.

This is what you need to know about the case and why future police-involved shootings in San Diego might play out differently.

The video of the shooting is graphic – and troubling.

The video shows Browder arriving at the alleyway, exiting his police car and then quickly shooting Nehad, who was 42. Nehad was walking toward the officer, but was slowing his pace and might have even stopped entirely before he was killed.

Dumanis released an edited version of the video, adding police radio traffic from the incident that communicated that Nehad had a knife. Nehad was holding a pen. The shooting starts around the 4-minute, 20-second mark.

Attorneys for Nehad’s family, which has filed a $20 million wrongful death lawsuit against the city, later released the unedited video. It has no audio and Browder is easier to see in this version.

This video is the only one we’re aware of that captures the entire incident.

There’s a very high bar when it comes to charging police officers for on-duty shootings. Browder wasn’t charged.

Longstanding U.S. Supreme Court precedent lays out clear reasons for when police shootings are justified:

Law enforcement officers can use deadly force if they believe there’s an imminent threat of deadly force against them or someone else. Crucially, the standard is taken from what a so-called “reasonable officer” would believe at the time, not with the benefit of hindsight. In this case, for instance, it matters less that Nehad didn’t end up having a knife and more whether a reasonable officer in the same position as Browder would think Nehad had one.

Last month, Dumanis announced that she would not prosecute Browder. In her 15-page letter describing her decision, Dumanis said it was reasonable for Browder to believe Nehad was an imminent threat. Indeed, her presentation last week showed that Browder had every reason to assume he was walking into an incident involving a man armed with a knife.

That said, the video provides plenty of evidence that things didn’t have to turn out the way they did.

Browder did not turn on the overhead lights on his vehicle when entering the alleyway, and it’s unclear from the video whether Nehad even knew he was approaching a cop. Browder got out of the car and put no barrier between himself and Nehad – he closed his car door, which could have blocked Nehad’s path. It takes only about five seconds from when Browder gets out of his car until he shoots. And again, Nehad was at least slowing his pace before Browder shot him.

“I think that no person in the world, in the entire universe, can see that video and come to the conclusion that my brother was attacking a police officer,” said Roshan, Nehad’s sister.

There are other inquiries into the shooting. The U.S. Department of Justice is investigating the incident. An internal SDPD investigation is nearing completion – though Browder has been back patrolling the streets since June. The wrongful death lawsuit filed by Nehad’s family is ongoing.

It took months for the video to come out because the mayor, City Council, police chief and DA all fought its release. That might change.

San Diego was one of the first big cities in the country to outfit its police officers with body cameras, and at the time police officials indicated the footage would be used for transparency purposes.

But soon after the department got them, Zimmerman decided that no videos would be released outside of a courtroom except in riot-like situations. She hasn’t released any.

In this case, Browder did not turn on his body camera before the shooting. There’s no indication Browder was disciplined for that, but Zimmerman has since changed department policy to require officers to turn on their cameras prior to arriving at a scene.

When surveillance footage of the shooting was discovered, the city tried to keep it under wraps as well. Nehad’s sister said a homicide sergeant told her police would only give them the video if the family filed a lawsuit. Even after that, the family had to agree to keep the footage secret once they received it. Over the summer, an employee of the business that owned the surveillance camera filed a sworn declaration saying that he saw the video at least 20 times and that he believed the shooting was unprovoked.

Soon after, Voice of San Diego and other local media outlets asked a federal judge to allow the family to release the video.

The city and district attorney did not want the video to come out. Zimmerman told the court that she feared riots in the streets and attacks against police officers if it were released. Faulconer, the majority of the City Council and Dumanis supported her view.

U.S. District Judge William Q. Hayes dismissed those arguments and cleared the way for the video’s release earlier this month. Dumanis decided to make the video public two days before the family would have been allowed to, per the judge’s order.

The court decision has prompted Dumanis and other high-ranking law enforcement officials to reassess their restrictive policies on releasing police video footage. Dumanis said she, Zimmerman, Sheriff Bill Gore and U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy are planning to meet to revise the region’s policies and come up with new standards in the next three months.

A spokesman for Faulconer said the mayor supported the law enforcement task force on the issue. Unlike mayors in other big cities with disputed police shootings, Faulconer has largely been absent from this debate.

The district attorney selectively released evidence from the shooting, and omitted evidence that put the officer in a bad light.

Dumanis said she was pre-empting the judge’s timeline for releasing the video because she believed putting out the footage by itself would have been irresponsible.

“The video in and of itself does not tell the complete story and I think it’s important for the public to see, in evaluating that, the complete picture of what happened,” Dumanis said at her press conference.

But her presentation did not provide the full picture of all the significant evidence from the case – in fact, it left out information that didn’t fit her narrative. Instead, she released a carefully curated set of evidence designed to support her decision that the shooting was justified and that Browder acted compassionately afterward.

Most strangely at the press conference, Dumanis played an unrelated video of an unidentified man demonstrating how to use a butterfly knife. She said the demonstration showed how the officer might have mistaken Nehad’s pen for a knife.

If that video was relevant to the case, certainly Browder’s statements to homicide investigators were as well. But Dumanis said she wasn’t releasing the officer’s interview because she wasn’t going to make everything public.

The next day, Nehad’s family released Browder’s statement. In his initial interview with investigators a few hours after the shooting, Browder said he didn’t see any weapons on Nehad. At that point, Browder’s attorney shut down the interview.

Five days later, and after he was allowed to view the surveillance video, Browder was interviewed again. At that point, he said he recalled Nehad having a metal object in his hand and he feared that he was going to get stabbed.

In the later interview, Browder also said he didn’t recall saying anything prior to shooting Nehad because the incident unfolded too quickly. (Witnesses at the scene recall Browder instructing Nehad to drop what was in his hand or stop, according to Dumanis.)

If last week’s press conference was any indication, we’ll see more videos of disputed police-involved shootings released publicly, which is a win for transparency. But the district attorney’s decision to leave out evidence contrary to her narrative also shows that future presentations still might not provide a complete picture of what happened.

Update: A day after this story published, a spokesman for Faulconer said the mayor supported the law enforcement task force to review police video disclosure policies. We updated the story to reflect that.

    This article relates to: Police, Public Safety

    Written by Liam Dillon

    Liam Dillon is senior reporter and assistant editor for Voice of San Diego. He leads VOSD’s investigations and writes about how regular people interact with local government. What should he write about next? Please contact him directly at or 619.550.5663.

    Don Wood
    Don Wood subscriber

    Perhaps an initiative is needed to force the city, the police chief and the DA, after spending millions of dollars of taxpayer money on cameras for each police officer, to require that those cameras be up and running every time an officer gets out of his car or pulls his gun. Individual police officers may be more likely to go with nonlethal responses instead of shooting first if they know that things are being captured on video. But as long as the police chief and DA let them to turn off their cameras whenever they want to, no change in their current behavior should be expected. The mayor, city council, police chief and the DA should be held accountable by the voters if they fail to use the cameras for the purpose they bought them.

    rhylton subscriber

    @Don Wood what you have suggested was mentioned by members of the Safe Neigbourhoods Committee in November's meeting. I believe that Zimmerman indicated that the desired technology was being tested and not yet ready.

    Your other comment is much more troubling. It deals with police turning off their cameras during encounters; as happened in December during a SWAT operation. That largely under-reported incident deserved more coverage and demanded explanation as to why the de-activation order was given. An explanation of the sort that is only obtainable by the press or during lawsuits. Absent those things none shall come.

    An Email, from VOSD, just popped up in my mailbox. Its title is 'Interesting and Fearless Coverage.' Right!

    Sam Ballard
    Sam Ballard

    Dumanis and the likes of Todd Gloria are the problem!  They are in the pockets of developers, don't want crime reported and will do everything in their power to hide it.  I used to respect the law until I was brutally beaten. Bonnie never charged the attacker and Todd claimed it was my own fault because I called the police, go figure? Death threats and over a thousand dollars damage and theft by an employee of the "Police Protected Bar" Tobacco Rhoda's which is still open and the neighbors still terrorized, yet when we found the stolen property it took more than two hours to respond and then they refused to charge the thief with the crime.  Cops kill in San Diego with impunity thats simply wrong Dumanis and Gloria belong in jail with the rest of the Cartel they support! Nothing but shame for the City.  Remember this? Still an attacker at large and before this even happened we warned of trouble they did nothing to make us safer they just made us more afraid of them!

    Chris Brewster
    Chris Brewster subscribermember

    In my view, the most troubling aspect of all this is the blatant dishonesty of Bonnie Dumanis. That is followed by the generally meek reporting of the news media and failure to meaningfully challenge Ms. Dumanis' versioning of events. (For example, the UT editorially and through its cartoonist implied the day after the news conference, thus before all of the information was released, that the news conference put the issue to bed. Then, when they saw what was withheld, had to backtrack. KPBS ran a milquetoast story at the top of their evening news and then moved on to the weather. Scott Lewis, to his credit, asked provocative questions at the news conference and was predictably insulted by the DA as if provocative questions are not OK at a news conference.) Finally, there is the lack of accountability considering that the Police Chief reports to the Mayor, but no one seems to make the Mayor accountable. Contrast that to New York, for example, where the Mayor is consistently called to account for the actions of the police department.

    Ed Price
    Ed Price

    The owner of the surveillance camera made several strongly opinionated statements last year, to the effect that the video contained evidence of police misconduct. These statements strongly influenced public interest in this incident. It would be instructive to find his statements and match them to the video that has now been released; were they accurate or inflammatory? The public needs to know how well verbal descriptions of the video match up with the actual scenes we can now see.

    rhylton subscriber

    @Ed Price I believe it was reported that  an employee of the owner who offered an opinion. I agree with his opinion. The notion of the strength of that opinion is yours.

    I am not persuaded that those "statements strongly influenced public interest in this incident": rather, I suspect that concealment. of the video - the allure of the forbidden- did just that. Tell them to look at Seattle.

    Ed Price
    Ed Price

    I am getting so damn weary of descriptions of a video as "graphic." Exactly what else is a video other than graphic? "We have video of the sun setting; caution, it's graphic!"

    rhylton subscriber

    @Ed Price you, sir, are confused by the distinction (with a world of difference) that is made when the article 'a' is included or omitted.

    Ed Price
    Ed Price

    Nobody has noticed that Nehad kicked Browder in the head, twice, immediately after he was shot?

    rhylton subscriber

    @Ed Price 

    I have no doubt that you have observed such an incident, whether it exists or not. However, you have not explained how that post-shooting incident could have factored into Browder's shoot-don't-shoot decision. If I am not mistaken, the bonnie lass used similar red-herring tactics in her press conference.

    I suppose that If I had been shot from 25 feet while carrying a pen, I would hope that I would have had enough life left to, at least, kick my assailant. Most persons would.

    Will Johnson
    Will Johnson subscriber

    So many issues here.  My heart goes out to all the families that have to deal with mental illness.  Cutbacks has left little or no support to assist our mental illness in dire situations.  It must feel like a ticking time bomb.  

    This is far from an isolated situation in our county.  Surely enforcement must know this better than the public.

    It's horrific that a seasoned cop shot someone dead in seconds.  There must have been a multitude of choices to mitigate this.  Where's the leadership to retrain our gun happy police force?  These decisions cost the taxpayers millions every time.

    rhylton subscriber

    @Will Johnson Law enforcement does not know better than anyone and they have proven that by their ineptitude and incompetence and in those shortcomings they have been assisted by lies; their own and of prosecutors.