Feras Morad had never had a run-in with police before the fatal shooting, she says, and he could not have posed a threat: ‘He didn’t have to die’
The 20-year-old shot dead by police in Long Beach, California, last week was a student debating champion who enjoyed academic work and planned to study law at Harvard, family members say.
Feras Morad had no criminal record, did not carry a weapon, and, until last Wednesday, never had any encounter with police, his sister told the Guardian on Monday.
“He was so smart and beautiful. He had so much potential. I know he was going to change the world,” his sister Ghada, 16, said.
On the evening of 27 May Morad took hallucinogenic mushrooms – his first time experimenting with drugs, according to Ghada – and freaked out.
He leaped through a second-floor window and was wandering the street dazed and bleeding when he was confronted by a police officer summoned to the scene.
According to a Long Beach Police Department statement , Morad ignored commands to stop so that medical treatment could be rendered.
“The suspect advanced more rapidly toward the officer who perceived the suspect was now a threat and going to assault him,” says the statement issued a day later. “During the next few minutes, the officer utilized verbal commands, an electronic control device, an impact weapon, and physical force to gain compliance but was unsuccessful. Ultimately, the suspect again advanced toward the officer, telling the officer he was going to attack him. At that time, an officer involved shooting occurred.”
Fire department personnel at the scene attempted “life saving measures” before ferrying Feras to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead, the statement said.
Friends and relatives have responded angrily, accusing police of using unjustified lethal force against a young man they said was confused, unarmed and harmless.
“There were so many other things they could have done. My brother didn’t have any muscles. He had a chubby little stomach. He couldn’t harm anyone. They could have cuffed him. Pinned him down. He didn’t have to die,” said Ghada.
The family, which has Egyptian roots, will sue the force and campaign to prevent further shootings, she said. “The only thing we can do now is get justice for Feras and stop this happening again.”
Friends and relatives have set up Facebook and Twitter accounts, using the hashtag # justice4feras , and a crowdfunding page to raise money for funeral and legal costs. By Monday afternoon it had raised just under $9,000 of the $33,100 target.
Morad graduated from El Camino Real Charter High School in Woodland Hills and enrolled in nearby Moorpark College. He was offered a place at UCLA and Berkeley but transferred to California State University, Long Beach to save money for his plan to study law at Harvard.
Morad was a champion debater at school and college and competed in national competitions, earning gold honours at the 2015 Phi Rho Pi National Forensic Organization parliamentary debate.
Soon after ingesting hallucinogenic mushrooms at around 6pm on 27 May, however, the articulate scholar became panic-stricken and bewildered.
The police statement said Morad had gotten into “a physical altercation with his friends” before jumping and then threatened the officer, who has not been named.
Morad’s friends and family deny those claims. According to the campaign’s Facebook page , based on friends’ eyewitness accounts, Morad crashed through a second story window and fell onto the concrete below, leaving him severely bleeding from a gash on his shoulder.
He ignored entreaties to return to the house and walked through an open gate into an alley, where a lone police officer ordered him to raise his hands, the campaign says in a post:
“Morad was not able to comply, and instead moved about aimlessly in the alley as witnesses yelled to the police officer that he was unarmed and in need of immediate medical attention.”
It says the officer fired three shots, all on target.
Morad was shirtless, unarmed and possibly suffering head trauma, Jordan Menard, a college debater who helped set up the Facebook page, told the Guardian. “Feras was not compliant but he was not combative. He was completely discombobulated, plus he didn’t have his glasses on.” Campaigners wanted to see the officer indicted, said Menard.
A spokesperson for the Long Beach Police Department said the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office was conducting an independent investigation, standard practice for all officer-involved shootings in Los Angeles County.
Morad’s family complained that they were not officially notified about the shooting and discovered he was dead only after phoning his friends on 29 May.
The police spokesperson said notifying next of kin was the responsibility of the coroner’s office. The coroner’s office did not immediately respond to a request for a comment.
A candlelit vigil is due to be held near the family home at Woodlawn Hills on Wednesday.
Watch video about the incident below: