Police officer who shot unarmed black youth worker was 'following procedure', watchdog finds

Sharif Cousins remembers his chest 'smoking' after being stopped by police on way to shops

Lizzie Dearden
Home Affairs Correspondent
Monday 01 April 2019 15:04 BST
Birmingham ex-gang man to sue police over shooting

A police officer who shot an unarmed black man on his way to the shops was “following procedure”, a watchdog has found.

Sharif Cousins, a former gang member turned youth worker, was put in an induced coma after being shot in the chest near his home in Birmingham.

The 42-year-old father survived his injuries and has threatened to sue West Midlands Police over the incident in July 2017.

It sparked a petition accusing police of “discrimination, victimisation … and prejudice” against black men in the UK, but an investigation concluded that the West Midlands Police officers involved “followed policy and procedure throughout the incident”.

The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) said armed police had been deployed to the Frankley area “in response to intelligence about firearms” and challenged Mr Cousins and another man in an alleyway.

His friend, 21-year-old Jamael Scarlett, was arrested at the scene and has since been jailed for firearms and drug offences.

Scarlett was not believed to have been armed during the incident but police found ammunition near Mr Cousins’ house.

IOPC regional director Derrick Campbell said: “Our thorough investigation examined the actions of all the police involved, including the officer who fired the shot, and we found that they were in line with policy and procedure.

“The police officers who carried out the operation had been briefed that they might face an armed threat and that gang members involved in gun crime in the region often hid weapons down the back of their trousers.

“Body-worn video supported the account given by the officer who said Mr Cousins did not immediately comply with commands to raise his hands and appeared to be reaching behind to get something out of a pocket, which at that moment he thought was a gun.

“In our view the officer concerned believed that there was an immediate and genuine risk posed to him, and his colleague, when he made the split-second decision to shoot.”

Mr Cousins claimed that he was targeted by police because of his previous convictions as a member of the Burger Bar Boys – a local gang that had been involved in a violent feud.

He has spent a total of 15 years in jail, including eight years for pointing a gun at a police officer, but started a youth charity after his release in 2011.

"I've done my time, I have changed my life since coming out of prison and I've been away from the law," Mr Cousins said last year.

Sharif Cousins was in an induced coma for three weeks after being shot by police (BBC)

The IOPC said there was “no prior intelligence” naming Mr Cousins as a subject of interest in the investigation and police only learned his identity after he was taken to hospital.

The watchdog also rejected his complaint over medical treatment, saying that “after the shooting officers moved quickly to provide first aid” until the arrival of paramedics.

Speaking to the BBC last year, Mr Cousins said he had his hands in the air when he was shot and remembered his “chest smoking” before losing consciousness.

"I saw the flash of the gun but I didn't actually believe it happened," Mr Cousins added.

"Now that I did pull through I just have to give thanks to God... because males that usually go through these type of situations they don't live to tell the story. They just end up a statistic.”

Mr Cousins said he still suffers pain, cannot lift his arm fully and suffers from panic attacks.

More than 1,700 people had signed a petition started by his daughter, Sariah Cousins, calling for a judicial inquiry into the “unjust treatment of black males”.

“My community was very shaken by this incident and have since lost all faith in the West Midlands Police and police in general,” it added.

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The force declined to comment on the incident, which was the first shooting by its officers since 2000.

Two people have been shot dead by West Midlands Police this year, including a man killed during an "intelligence-led operation" last month.

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