The Justice Files: Son calls it a miracle his father wasn’t killed in police crossfire

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SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 Utah) – Thaer Mahdi immigrated to the U.S. to escape the violence from his native country.

Mahdi served in Iraq’s military during Saddam Hussein’s reign.  He was hoping to live in peace after moving his family to Utah.  But in April 2019, that dream was shattered.

One year ago, police were chasing a white pickup truck on State Street.  Earlier, Harold Robinson was accused of an armed robbery and refused to stop.  Despite efforts by police Robinson wouldn’t stop and at times fired back at police.

After passing 3300 South State Robinson swerved into a building.  It was where Mahdi was running his alteration business.  Mahdi was inside when Robinson crashed into the front part of his business.

Seconds later, a hail of bullets rang through the business.  Police were firing their weapons at Robinson who died at the scene.

“Luckily none of the bullets hit him,” said his son Bassam Hassan.  “You can see (bullet holes) over there, like in the bathroom. He just kind of froze in his place. So it was just kind of a miracle.”

Mahdi survived the shooting.  His son said his father was in the backroom.  A thin wall separated him from the area where the pickup crashed.  But he said bullets still penetrated the wall and came within inches of where he was.

A year has passed since the shooting his son says Mahdi is still traumatized and has yet to return to his shop.

“He’s doing much better,” said Hassan.  “Thankfully, he’s on meds. He couldn’t sleep a lot and he doesn’t get angry and frustrated like he does, like freak out about everything.”

Mahdi’s attorney says the terror he witnessed shook him to the core.  And Mahdi is now suing Salt Lake City police, Unified Police and the Utah Highway Patrol.  Those are the agencies who were involved in the shooting.

The attorney acknowledged police had a difficult situation but Aaron Garrett claimed they went too far.

“Within a matter of 15 to 20 seconds there were 200 shots that were fired at my client’s business,” said Garrett, co-founder of the Nonprofit Legal Services of Utah.  “I don’t think that’s appropriate and the people of Salt Lake and Utah should expect more from their police force.”

Mahdi’s son said his father still suffers from post traumatic stress syndrome from his time serving in Iraq’s military.  He said the shooting brought back those memories.

“We actually closed the shop because he couldn’t go back at all,” said Hassan. “Every time he’d go back there he’d just remember and freak out.  That’s why we haven’t talked to the media because he can’t talk about it.”

A spokesman for the Salt Lake Police department, one of the agencies being sued, had no comment because of the pending litigation.

But the officers were cleared of any wrongdoing by Salt Lake’s district attorney.  The 15 officers cleared said Robinson needed to be stopped because he had fired several shots while being pursued.  And after he crashed into business the officers claimed he pointed his weapon and they feared public citizens could have been hurt.

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