Classmates of an LL.M. student at Case Western Reserve University School of Law who was fatally shot by a police officer are calling for a federal inquiry into his death.
More than 50 law students, faculty and staff from the Cleveland school signed a letter this month requesting that Justin Herdman, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio, open an investigation into the Dec. 4 death of Saif Nasser Mubarak Alameri, 26, a citizen of the United Arab Emirates who had come to the United States to get an advanced law degree.
Alameri was shot five times by Ryan Doran, an officer with the Hudson Police Department, following a brief struggle between the two men in a wooded area where the law student had fled after crashing his car while driving erratically. Alameri was unarmed.
A grand jury in August declined to indict Doran, but members of Case Western’s law school community argue in their letter to Herdman that the incident warrants further investigation. A portion of the encounter between the two men was captured by a dashboard camera on Doran’s cruiser, though the actual shooting and struggle takes place out of the frame, with audio running.
“The fact stands that the officer’s account of what happened is not independently corroborated, and the officer and his legal representation had at least 14 weeks to craft a story that explained the officer’s use of force through the lens of the evidence known to the public,” the letter reads. “And the officer’s narrative stands alone at this point because Saif himself can no longer contradict it and there are no images capturing what happened.”
The letter argues that Doran did not need to use lethal force against Alameri, who may have been confused and disoriented in the aftermath of the vehicle accident. Moreover, federal authorities should look into whether Alameri’s dark complexion was a factor in Doran’s decision to shoot, it said.
“We will review their request just as we review all requests from the public,” said U.S. Attorney’s Office spokesman Michael Tobin on Tuesday.
It’s not the first request for a federal investigation of Alameri’s death. Case Western Law professors Lewis Katz and Michael Benza in August sent a similar letter to Herdman, though Katz said Tuesday that he has not received any response from the U.S. Attorney and is not optimistic that he will.
“Even if [Herdman] were so inclined, I doubt that [U.S. Attorney General Jeff] Sessions and the Department of Justice would allow such an inquiry today,” Katz said.
Doran’s account of his encounter with Alameri that day is full of holes, Katz said. And state investigators expended great effort trying to create a portrait of Alameri as troubled and erratic while being overly friendly to Doran, he added. The law student’s strange behavior that day was more likely the byproduct of a head injury sustained in the crash as eyewitnesses at the scene reported seeing Alameri repeatedly fall to the ground and get up, he said.
“He was a sweet, generous kid, who, like most kids, had some issues,” said Katz, who worked directly with Alameri as the head of Case Western’s LL.M. program. Alameri had been in the United States for less than five months at the time of his killing.
Elizabeth Connors, a second-year Case Western law student and one of the authors of the most recent letter to Herdman, said a small group of students have tracked the case since December when they became concerned about the public narrative emerging about Alameri and the shooting. Those public accounts of the law student as being in crisis contradicted the stories from those at the law school who knew him, she said.
“We were also concerned about how this investigation may be handled and thought that we needed to keep track of what was going on,” Connors added.
According to authorities, Alameri was driving a 2009 Toyota Camry erratically and at high speeds on the Ohio Turnpike outside of Cleveland the afternoon of Dec. 4 when he sideswiped another vehicle and flipped his car over. He then fled into nearby woods, where Doran encountered him near a service road less than an hour later.
Police released a five-minute dashboard camera video the following week that does not show the shooting itself. But the audio captures Doran ordering Alameri to the ground repeatedly for nearly a minute, then an apparent 20-second struggle before Doran fires six shots.
The Summit County Medical Examiner’s Office ruled Alameri’s death a homicide, and Doran was placed on administrative leave during the investigation, which was conducted by the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation. Doran told investigators that Alameri knocked him to the ground and grabbed at his gun.
The students’ letter asserts that Doran’s version of the physical altercation—which includes a chase, striking Alameri several times with his police baton, and struggling on the ground with him—is unlikely to have occurred in the span of 20 seconds.
However, DNA evidence taken from both Doran and Alameri corroborated the story of a physical struggle between the two, investigators concluded. Toxicology test found a small amount of marijuana in Alameri’s system but no alcohol or other drugs.
A grand jury in early August declined to bring criminal charges against Doran. The United Arab Emirates embassy issued a statement that it was “deeply disappointed” in the decision.
Katz said he believes Doran would have known by the time that he encountered Alameri in the woods that witnesses had described him as “dark” and that vehicle registration records would have revealed his Arab name.
“This smacks of a civil rights violation,” he said. “It’s so obvious that the FBI should be doing their own investigation here.”
The law students’ letter posits that Alameri’s final moments were likely a byproduct of an injury and a lack of familiarity with his surroundings.
“Saif was an international student who may have simply panicked upon realizing what happened in a foreign land, so far from home,” it reads. “Either way, Saif needed medical attention. He did not need to be threatened with deadly force like a dangerous criminal.”
Contact Karen Sloan at email@example.com. On Twitter: @KarenSloanNLJ