Newly released police dash camera footage shows the deadly police shooting of an Anchorage, Alaska, man in 2019 after he reached into his waistband to retrieve what was later determined to be a BB gun.
The video, released exclusively to NBC News by a lawyer for the family of the man, shows the moments before and after Bishar Hassan, 31, was fatally shot by three Anchorage police officers on April 1, 2019.
In the video, Hassan is seen walking down a street when the officers, riding in three separate vehicles, pull over to stop him. Officers believed he matched the description of a man reported to have been waving a gun, according to a report from the state Office of Special Prosecutions, which investigated the case.
The officers exit their vehicles and as Hassan walks toward them, he pulls an object that appears to be a gun from his waistband, the video shows.
Officers immediately fired their weapons, killing him. The video also shows that officers didn’t provide first aid to Hassan for at least two minutes after the shooting. The Anchorage Police Department did not return multiple requests for comment.
The object Hassan was holding was later determined to be a “real-like replica BB or pellet gun modeled after a 9 mm handgun,” according to a report from the Alaska Office of Special Prosecutions.
The shooting raises questions about reasonableness and reaction time in police use of force and highlights concerns about whether officers afford the same benefit of the doubt to Black people carrying guns as non-Blacks. A similar discussion has surrounded the shooting of Amir Locke, who was shot and killed by Minneapolis police as they carried out a no-knock warrant. An attorney for Locke’s family said he had no past criminal history and legally possessed the firearm he was holding at the time of his death.
Rex Lamont Butler, a lawyer representing Hassan’s family in a civil lawsuit, said Hassan was illegally stopped and that the fatal shooting wasn’t justified. The family filed a $20 million wrongful death lawsuit in March against Anchorage and the three police officers involved: Nathan Lewis, Brett Eggiman and Matthew Hall.
Pamela Weiss, an attorney representing Anchorage and the three police officers in the civil case, declined to comment.
“He had his palm up with the gun in his hand. He was showing them that it was a toy,” Butler said, adding that Hassan sometimes had difficulty communicating because English was his second language. “The video sells itself in something not being right here.”
An investigation into the shooting determined that none of the officers involved would face criminal charges in Hassan’s death. The attorney general’s office did not return requests for comment.
In his July 2019 report announcing the decision, assistant attorney general for the Office of Special Prosecutions, John Darnall, said the investigation found that the officers “were acting in defense of themselves and/or others when they fired their weapons.”
Darnall wrote that Hassan did not stop walking toward the officers, despite multiple commands to do so, and instead “reached into his right pants waistband and began pulling up (what) appeared to be a handgun.”
“Hassan’s motion was completed in one smooth, quick, movement. As Hassan began to extend the gun towards Officer Hall, Officer Hall, Officer Lewis, and Officer Eggiman all fired their weapons at him,” the report said.
Generally, officers in these situations can use deadly force if they reasonably perceive they are in danger of physical harm or death, said Dennis Kenney, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York.
“At the time of when the officer makes the decision, what is known to him or her at that point is all that matters. And so if a person doesn’t speak English as a first language or that the person had mental health issues in this case would be pretty much irrelevant. There’s no way that the officer would know that,” he said. “What it will come down to would be whether or not when he pulled the gun.”
Alaska does not require people who carry guns to have a permit, nor does the state have laws prohibiting anyone 21 or older from carrying it concealed or open.
On the day of the shooting, police responded to several 911 calls reporting a Black man waving a handgun near a Walmart, according to Darnall’s report.
“One caller opined that the male may have mental health issues,” Darnall wrote.
Hassan had been walking near a Walmart parking lot before taking a bus to the intersection of A Street and 16th Avenue in Anchorage, according to the family’s lawsuit. He matched the 911 callers’ description of a man wearing a black coat and white pants, the lawsuit said.
“Officers received calls about a man behaving erratically and believed to be armed with a handgun,” Justin Doll, who at the time was chief of the Anchorage Police Department, said during a 2019 news conference. “When officers made contact with the suspect, he turned toward the officers. They were giving him verbal commands that he did not comply with, and at that point the suspect produced a handgun from his waistband and pointed it at the officers and three officers fired their weapons.”
Hassan continued to move after falling to the ground, the video shows, while officers remain out of frame.
“After realizing that Bashir Hassan would not, or could not, follow the officers’ commands to roll over on his stomach, Officers Ashbaugh, Eggiman, Hall, and Lewis advanced to Hassan’s position to secure him and to administer first aid,” Darnall wrote in his report.
Hassan was transported to the hospital, where he later died.
Butler views the shooting differently, saying police made an illegal stop.
“The police go three cars deep after him, and essentially the police pulled a felony stop for a person who has not committed a crime and hasn’t done anything wrong. He showed them an open palm and they lit him up,” Butler said.
Butler said Hassan had a special needs medical condition, was not a threat and was following Alaska law, which requires a person stopped by police to immediately let officers know they are in possession of a firearm.
“As required by Alaska law (Hassan) informed Officer Hall that he had a gun that is not a real but a toy,” the family said in its lawsuit.
Hassan’s brother, Ahmed Hassan, said he had been driving around looking for his younger brother on the day of the shooting. He received a phone call from a friend that Hassan had been in Walmart, but there was no mention of waving a gun. Ahmed Hassan said he saw his brother boarding the bus and followed behind.
“I watched my brother get shot right in front of me,” Ahmed Hassan, 35, said. “I started screaming and shaking.”
The Hassan brothers, along with their mother, fled Somalia and moved to Kenya when they were young. The family moved to Anchorage 10 years ago.
“I’m still seeking justice,” Ahmed Hassan said, adding that the death has taken a toll on their mother, who is now losing weight and has high blood pressure.