Despite Settlement, Sheriff Sees No Need for Additional Training

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Two-and-a-half years ago Franklin County Sheriff’s Deputies fatally shot a Somali immigrant suffering from a psychotic episode. The county reached a settlement with the man’s family. Part of that settlement includes additional training for deputies.

Nasir Abdi’s 2005 death outraged members of the Columbus Somali community. They held a protest at city hall.

“We’re all gathered here to show our pain and outrage and frustration for the senseless killing of this young man,” a Somali protester said.

Deputies shot the 23-year-old Abdi after he swung a knife at them when they were trying to carry out a probate court order to take Abdi to a mental hospital for treatment. Abdi, who suffered from schizophrenia, had quit taking his medication.

Franklin County Commissioners approved a half million dollar settlement to Abdi’s family. Also as part of the settlement, the Sheriff’s Office is to create a Crisis Intervention Team to assist officers dealing with someone with a mental illness. The settlement also calls for continued mental health training every three years.

23-year-old Liban Abdi is one of Nasir Abdi’s younger brothers. Liban said he’s glad to hear deputies will get the training that could have saved his brother’s life.

“Next time if they’re called to appropriate order for somebody that’s sick, they’re going to call a Crisis Intervention Team and they’re not going to be in a rush. And they’re not going to be quick to shoot,” Liban Abdi said.

Nasir was shot in the chest less than one minute after deputies arrived to his apartment. His other younger brother, 24-year-old Nur Abdi, arrived about a minute after his brother was shot. Nur, too, hopes the new training will help save lives.

“I hope this change will help save a lot of mentally ill people. And I hope we’re not going to see no brother or no mother crying no more,” Nur Abdi said.

Nasir Abdi’s family and his attorney, Fred Gittes, content Abdi did not attack police officers. They say he lashed out after deputies pepper sprayed him and in a sense backed him into a corner. Franklin County Sheriff Jim Karnes adamantly defends his deputies. He said Abdi came at the officers first.

“He came at them,” Karnes said.

Either way, Ohio Advocate for Mental Health executive director Janet Galligan, said a person having a psychotic episode often are paranoid and frightened.

“If they are approached with a lot of orders, one right after the other, their mind is not processing fast enough to be able to follow those commands. And so it’s very difficult for the first responder to be able to know what to do in a situation like that. That is why I think the training that’s available should be available to everyone who’s a first responder,” Galligan said.

Sheriff Karnes said his deputies meet or exceed training for Ohio peace officers. As far as implementing a Crisis Intervention Team, Karnes said the departments Hostage Negotiation Team already is their crisis intervention team. He said officers are already up to date on that kind of training and that’s why he agreed to the settlement.

“That’s why agreed to the stuff, cause they already have it,” Karnes said.

Attorney Fred Gittes said he does not think that’s the case.

“If this has happened it’s only happened in the last 48 hours as a result of this settlement agreement,” he said. Karnes was asked if he thought his deputies could have done anything differently to spare Abdi’s life.

“He shouldn’t have came at em with a knife,” Karnes said.

Karnes was asked: “Are you taking in to account at all that he did have a mental illness and that maybe he’s not processing things properly?” He replied, “You know, that part of it has nothing to do with it. If somebody comes at you with a knife, regardless of whether they’re mental or they’re not mental, you’re going to respond in a manner to protect your life. That’s what they’re trained to do. You’re not going to let someone come at you with a knife and stand there with your hands in your pockets.”

Again, Fred Gittes.

“His comments are the kind of attitude that caused this tragedy to begin with. He deliberately ignored FBI recommendations, recommendations at seminars of the Buckeye Sheriff’s Association, one recommendation after another to approach these situations differently and have special training,” Gittes said.

Nasir Abdi’s birthday is just over a week away. He would have been 26-years-old. His brothers, Nur and Liban, remember him fondly.

“I remember a lot of things about my brother. He used to play soccer, he was a good cook. He used to do a lot of things. I remember him a lot,” Nur Abdi said.

“We used to go to the park and play soccer and hang out and just be brothers,” Liban Abdi added.

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