By Kevin Murphy Correspondent for The Capital Times The writer retains the copyright for this article
Copyright 2006 Madison Newspapers, Inc.
Federal jurors needed about 3 1/2 hours Wednesday to find that Capitol Police Office James Brooks did not use excessive force or cause the death of a Somali immigrant whom Brooks helped take into custody in November 2002.
The parents of Jamal Mohamed alleged that Brooks caused their son to suffocate when he pinned Mohamed to the ground with his knee while two Madison police officers restrained him.
Mohamed died of traumatic asphyxiation in the 2900 block of University Avenue as he was lying on his stomach and struggling for breath. Brooks pinned Mohamed to the ground with his knee for up to 55 seconds and suffocated him, attorney Jonathan Loevy said in closing arguments Wednesday.
"Brooks didn't intend to kill Jamal Mohamed but he wasn't as well trained as the Madison police officers. He should have let the others handle it," Loevy said.
Brooks, 31, had been a Capitol police officer for nearly two years when he stopped to assist Madison police officer Jessica Murphy and Sgt. Patrick Grady, who with Brooks' help put Mohamed on the ground. While Grady lay on Mohamed's legs and Murphy grabbed the struggling Mohamed, Brooks put his knee and shin on Mohamed's shoulder area, Loevy said. When Mohamed arched up in order to breathe, said Loevy, Brooks used his knee to pin down Mohamed until he quit moving and breathing.
"Brooks misinterpreted Mohamed's attempt to breathe as a struggle to wiggle free," said Loevy.
No Madison police officer testified during the three-day trial that it was proper to put a knee on the back of someone already handcuffed, Loevy said. Brooks testified that he continued to press down on Mohamed because "he didn't know you weren't supposed to do that," Loevy said.
Brooks had two days of training on restraining a suspect while Madison officers have up to four months, said Loevy. And Brooks testified that he didn't remember his training, Loevy added.
Medical experts had different opinions about how Mohamed died. Loevy recalled testimony of Dr. Howard Adelman, a forensic pathologist who said some of Mohamed's neck and chest injuries were consistent with someone applying sufficient pressure to force the air from Mohamed's lungs into surrounding tissue.
Jurors only needed to find that it was more likely than not that Brooks used excessive force, which caused Mohamed's death. However, they may have found arguments by Assistant Attorney General John Glinski more convincing.
Glinski reminded jurors that another forensic expert, Dr. Billy Bauman, testified that Mohamed's injuries weren't consistent with those caused by someone putting a knee to the back of his neck.
Glinski also mentioned that Bauman said Mohamed's death was caused by his breathing difficulties and injuries from a recent fall and not due to anything Brooks did.
Calls to Loevy and Glinski weren't returned. A call to Capitol Police Chief David Heinle seeking comment on the verdict also wasn't returned.
District Judge Barbara Crabb had previously dismissed the case for lack of evidence of excessive force. An appeals court in Chicago reversed the decision, ruling that factual disputes as to Mohamed's cause of death warranted a jury trial.
April 21, 2006
Wis. cop cleared in 2002 retraint death