My brother wanted to go to the bathroom. Police killed him instead.

On Jan. 4, 2017, my brother, Muhammad Muhaymin, tried to use the public restroom in Phoenix. It cost him his life.

As the Department of Justice opens an investigation into the Phoenix police, it’s time for us to again demand that police officers, like the ones who killed my brother, be held accountable for their actions. A little-known federal, legal doctrine called qualified immunity has kept thousands of Americans who have had their rights violated from having their day in court. a man and a woman taking a selfie: Sisters of Muhammad Abdul Muhaymin Jr., Mussallina Muhaymin, left, and Zarinah Tavares, in Phoenix on June 5, 2020.

While the specifics of this story are about Muhammad, this injustice could happen to anyone if we don’t end qualified immunity by passing the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act

A bathroom break ends in arrest 

My brother suffered from schizophrenia, and on the day of his death, he was temporarily living in a park near Maryvale Community Center in Phoenix. That morning, Muhammad went into the center to use the restroom with his service dog – a chihuahua he had named Chiquita. Because of Chiquita, the manager of the community center refused to let Muhammad use the bathroom, even though he had every legal right to do so. 

Then, community center employees called 911, falsely accusing Muhammad of shoving the managerBodycam footage from the four Phoenix police officers who responded show that Muhammad was at all times respectful and courteous. 

Eventually, my brother was allowed to use the restroom, but while inside, the officers ran his name through their database and found that he had a no-show warrant from a misdemeanor offense – possession of a marijuana pipe. 

As Muhammad walked out of the community center, the officers told him he was under arrest and ordered him to drop Chiquita. He never became combative or demonstrated any type of aggression. Instead, he simply begged for someone to take care of his dog. 

The officers ignored his pleas and ripped Chiquita from my brother’s arms. They handcuffed Muhammad and dragged him to their police cruiser. Once there, they slammed him against the hood of their car and ripped his still-handcuffed arms over his head.

Muhammad let out a blood-curdling scream – one that haunts me to this day. The officers then threw him to the ground. And even though he was already handcuffed and subdued, as many as six police officers got on top of him. Two of the officers pressed their knees into Muhammad’s back and neck, pushing down with the full weight of their bodies.

My brother spent his last eight minutes and 30 seconds begging for his life. At least five times, he told the officers he could not breathe. He pleaded, “Please help me” and “please stop.” In fact, Muhammad used the word “please” no fewer than 10 times in the bodycam video that I still cannot bear to watch. 

He asphyxiated and went into cardiac arrest. In the video, Chiquita can be seen anxiously circling my brother. Muhammad was pronounced dead at the local hospital. 

My brother’s killers evade justice 

Maricopa County prosecutors refused to bring charges against the officers responsible for Muhammad’s death. So I decided to sue the officers responsible for violating Muhammad’s constitutional rights to be free from excessive force. I have thus far been kept from having my day in court due to qualified immunity.

Qualified immunity begins with the assumption that officers are ignorant of the law and cannot be held accountable unless the person suing can find a case with an identical set of facts in which the cops were found to be accountable. Without that exact precedent, there can be no trial. The case must be dismissed – even if the officers clearly violated the victim’s civil rights, as they did in my brother’s case. 

This is what makes qualified immunity an echo chamber of injustice. 

The Phoenix police officers responsible for Muhammad’s death have asked the court to dismiss the case against them because (they claim) there was no legal precedent that would have specifically put them on notice that what they did to Muhammad is illegal and violated his constitutional rights. This is the protection bad cops have because of qualified immunity. 

Muhammad’s case isn’t unique. In fact, qualified immunity is the single biggest hurdle to holding the police accountable in the United States. Right now, after passage in the House, the Senate is negotiating the Justice in Policing Act, which would limit law enforcement’s ability to call on qualified immunity in cases of unlawful civil action, allowing people like myself to receive justice for the unconstitutional behavior of bad cops.  

Opposition to this legislation has been fierce and based on the false notion that without qualified immunity, police officers cannot do their job. The truth, however, is that even with the removal of qualified immunity, officers would have the same rights as any American in a civil suit. Meaning cops like the ones who brutally killed Muhammad would be weeded out based on free market principles: They’d become too expensive to employ. 

But above all, qualified immunity should be abolished because in America, we believe that no one is above the law. That should especially be true for those whose job it is to enforce it.

12 thoughts on “My brother wanted to go to the bathroom. Police killed him instead.

  1. Well this story is the brothers account of what happened so I don’t believe his brother was an angel and cops just attacked him. I read other articles on this and they said the dog was unleashed out of control, little dogs are more apt to bite so this is a concern. The article also said that when trying to cuff him he was resisting and passive aggressive. If this guy has a mental illness and the brother was so concerned why hasn’t he done anything? The guy is living in a park. So tired of people blaming cops and telling stories like this but leaving out things and of course his brother did nothing wrong. Another thing that act as though it’s normal to have outstanding warrants even misdemeanor ones, I have never had a warrant issued for me for anything misdemeanor or felony, the only ones who don’t take care of them are people who have lots of trouble with the law.

    1. Send it to the President of the United States? You do know who the president is today right?! That man couldn’t find his ass with both hands let alone do anything about this! You’re just as much of an idiot as the president is. Don’t open your mouth unless you really have something worthwhile to say

  2. Let’s see if I understand you correctly: Your (much-loved?) brother Muhammad (spelled in the Muslim form) was a schizophrenic living in a public park (not with you or safely in a secure facility designed to treat schizophrenics and others who need help), with a “service” Chihuahua (with the accompanying documents certifying “Chiquita” as such, I presume)) he attempted to take into a public restroom in the park. The park service personnel on duty took exception to the dog’s presence in the facility (if there’s any fault, it occurs here, I believe) when your brother becomes combatant and, according to park service personnel, commits assault and battery on one of them, leading to police being summoned. Hmmm. Given that scenario alone, I would believe I would be walking into a volatile situation, if I were a law enforcement officer. Apparently, that was the case, which may or may not have led to over-reaction by the officers.
    Now grief-stricken, you decide to sue the police rather than become an activist for more help for the mentally disturbed and more facilities in which to house them. However, your plan for monetary recompense for the death of your beloved (albeit homeless) brother goes awry when the court doesn’t see it your way. And now you’re a little miffed. Have I got that right?

  3. The brother did not mention the fact there was a knife. Wonder why. Or, that the courts found that the “service dog” papers, that Mo claimed were stolen, did not exist because Chiquita was not a service dog. My heart goes out for Mo b/c I overly love my dog too. But, cooperate with the cops and they probably would have went above & beyond to make sure Chiquita was safe. Shame Mo’s family only cared about his well being when they can get money from a lawsuit. Any family member who allows a family to live in a park is, well what Mo left in the toilet that day.

  4. If you were the officer”Trish Johnson” you would have been correct to enter the scene with caution, considering the content of the original complaint.
    However, as an LEO, and the one carrying a side arm and wielding the authority of the courts, you are ultimately responsible for your decisions, your actions and their consequences.
    Just like any other trained, professional out there. Even a plumber or electrician, both well trained and responsible for their actions. In the case of contractors, there is contractual law established to protect both parties. Its a system that mostly works.
    In Law enforcement, there is an assumed immunity by those in the department. Every individual in the department is aware of it. I know this to be true because i know a Lot of cops. Good ones and bad ones. They are all aware of it. They dont all take advantage of it… But they are ALL AWARE OF IT.

    But more importantly, the problem is NOT JUST THE POLICE DEPARTMENTS!! All city and county employees are aware of it and enjoy that “look the other way” priviledge just the same as members of the police departments. Every single municipality in every county in every state is aware of this policy.
    But, wait for it!!!…
    There is more,
    Every single small business in every small town in every county in every state recieves the very same courtesy from law enforcement!!
    Ive personally experienced this and i know hundreds of others that dont get citations just because of some association with local municiple authorities.

    Its wrong on every level, because it means that people that are on the outside, with no connection to the “system” DO NOT recieve that same courtesy, the cops issue citations and they damned sure dont look the otber way!

    The reason cops get away with murder like this is because EVERYONE associated in any way wants that special unspoken courtesy or priviledge to continue. From the Judge to the beat cop. They ALL recieve priviledged treatment every day by everybody.
    Its not always a color thing, but when it is, the outcome is always even worse than when its not.
    Its wrong
    Its always been wrong
    But you will NEVER make it stop.
    Because when you try to do something about it…
    You are relegated to the same status as the others standing around bitchin about the way things are done.
    It is what it is

    1. If cops are so damn bad why don’t you all go to the police academy and graduate, if you can, and become a police officer. When you have to deal with all the shit that is out there then tell me and the rest of the world how are you made a difference! I have a son who is a police officer he’s a damn good cop. Just because there’s a few bad cops and when I say a few, I mean say 10 cops per department the rest of them are good cops! I am sick to death of hearingAbout “poor people” Who the cops picked on. When I place officer walks up to you and says you’re under arrest shut your mouth do what they say and don’t become combative! It’s that simple I’m over all of this bullshit!

      1. It’s funny how folks who are stopped by the police suddenly “know” their rights, but can’t read a label on a soup can…much less ever finished grade school. Sounds good when they quote the “law” on camera , I wish the media would report their ” knowledge” of the law is wrong. Then maybe the person would admit ” gee, I thought that’s what it meant.”

    2. If cops are so damn bad why don’t you all go to the police academy and graduate, if you can, and become a police officer. When you have to deal with all the shit that is out there then tell me and the rest of the world how are you made a difference! I have a son who is a police officer he’s a damn good cop. Just because there’s a few bad cops and when I say a few, I mean say 10 cops per department the rest of them are good cops! I am sick to death of hearingAbout “poor people” Who the cops picked on. When a police officer walks up to you and says you’re under arrest shut your mouth do what they say and don’t become combative! It’s that simple.
      I’m sick to death of this victim attitude.

    3. If cops are so damn bad why don’t you all go to the police academy and graduate, if you can, and become a police officer. When you have to deal with all the shit that is out there then tell me and the rest of the world how are you made a difference! I have a son who is a police officer he’s a damn good cop. Just because there’s a few bad cops and when I say a few, I mean say 10 cops per department the rest of them are good cops! I am sick to death of hearingAbout “poor people” Who the cops picked on. When a police officer walks up to you and says you’re under arrest shut your mouth do what they say and don’t become combative! It’s that simple.
      I’m sick to death of this victim attitude.

Leave a Reply