A Christina school board member said an incident involving a University of Delaware police officer and an 18-year-old graduate of Newark High School is “another George Floyd moment.”
Naveed Baqir made that statement in a special board meeting last week where dozens of community members testified in support of student Mohammed Sanogo, with plenty of disdain and condemnation for UD, with an outcry of police misconduct.
On June 15, Sanogo was arrested by UD police less than 45 minutes after crossing the graduation stage – held at the Bob Carpenter Center on UD’s campus – and receiving his diploma.
Sanogo, a star student with a grade point average above a 4.0, had plans to attend the University of Maryland to pursue aerospace engineering.
His future endeavors are now in doubt, Baqir said, since UD is pursuing charges of resisting arrest and reckless driving after accusing Sanogo of trespassing.
Baqir and others questioned the trespassing accusation, as many were still on the premises taking photos with their friends and family members after the ceremony.
“UD could destroy his future by implicating him in serious offenses,” he said. “They want to push through this so that for the rest of his life, anytime he applies for a job, he’ll have to answer the question, ‘have you ever been arrested?’ and he would have to say yes. He’ll be asked if he’s ever been charged with a crime, and he’ll have to say yes.”
Several witnesses of the incident shared the same story.
It began when officers approached a handful of people, including Sanogo, who were engaging in a Muslim group prayer in the parking lot.
“The time for our prayer, which is around sunset, had come, so we decided we might as well just pray here,” said 18-year-old Abdu HafdhAllah, a friend of Sanogo.
Witnesses say a couple officers already appeared angry, provocative and on edge when they told the group that was praying that they needed to leave.
“Immediately after we prayed, we got in our vehicles because we were gonna go somewhere to eat,” HafdhAllah said, “but as soon as I got in my car, a police officer, a lady, came up and she knocked on my window and said ‘You guys can’t be hanging around here.’”
After explaining they were praying, the officer said she didn’t care what they were doing and told them they must leave.
The three cars were on their way out of the parking lot, but as Sanogo’s car left, his car made a screeching noise.
Witnesses say he had just gotten his tires redone, so when he hit the gas, it made a noticeable sound.
“They made a sound but I was looking at him and he did not drift,” HafdhAllah said. “I don’t know if they thought that because of the sound, he drifted or something.”
After this, two UD cars “boxed in” Sanogo as he was trying to exit the parking lot.
“It was just a truck, a construction truck or something from UD, and they boxed him in like they didn’t want him to get out,” said Ali Aidel, a 19-year-old who’s friends with Sanogo and was at the scene in a nearby car with his brother, Zakaraya.
It is unclear if the truck “boxing in” Sanogo was from UD.
Even when the green light went off, Aidel said, the vehicle in front of Sanogo would not move.
The car with the Aidels exited the parking lot and pulled across the street near the Wells Fargo bank, and HafdhAllah was in a car near Sanogo’s in the parking lot.
This is when the Aidels and HafdhAllah claim they saw another UD officer knocking on Sanogo’s window and asking him to step out of the car.
“He kept asking ‘what do I have to get out for?’ and I’m trying to tell him just to listen because I know my friend, he has asthma and he freaks out a lot, especially when people touch him,” HafdhAllah said. “I was trying to tell him ‘MoMo, I know you’re scared just try to do what they tell you.’”
Sanogo then opened the door, and officers dragged him out and pinned him against the car.
“He was freaking out and struggling a little… he started yelling ‘I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe’ because he has asthma, and he started to freak out and started turning around,” HafdhAllah said. “He was kind of resisting, but that’s because he was freaking out. He started to get up so he could gasp for air.”
That’s when an officer picked up Sanogo and slammed him into the tall grass, where he continued to say he couldn’t breathe.
“Then another officer came running at us and he had his taser out and he said ‘Get back or you’ll get tased, get back or you’ll get tased,’ and that’s we just sat in our cars waited, and then the lights turn green and I just drove across the street to wait for him.”
Several cellphone videos shed some light onto what happened.
Sanogo was arrested and held overnight and eventually released at 4 a.m. with a $200 unsecured bail.
“He made his medical condition known to the officers but they just kept him pointed without any de-escalation technique being used,” Baqir said, “and UD continues to refuse to allow anyone to watch the body cam video.”
UD has only released one statement about the incident.
“First and foremost, the University of Delaware rejects any allegations that the UD Police Department officers acted with racial or religious bias,” the statement read. “UDPD applied appropriate de-escalation techniques in dealing with a suspect who was resisting arrest in order to ensure the safety of all who are involved, including the suspect.”
Their official account of the incident is as follows:
“On Thursday, June 15, UDPD arrested an 18-year-old male unaffiliated with the University for reckless driving and resisting arrest. This occurred immediately following Newark High School’s graduation on UD property, which the suspect and others who were present had attended. As noted in a publicly available arrest warrant, drivers of three vehicles were observed to have been operating those vehicles recklessly through a parking lot at the Bob Carpenter Center, including with passengers hanging out the windows of the vehicles. Two on-duty UDPD officers engaged with the drivers, given the careless and dangerous activity occurring on campus property, and asked them to fasten their seatbelts and leave the property. Two of the vehicles complied with the officers’ instructions and left the parking lot without incident. The operator of the third vehicle accelerated quickly, spinning the vehicle’s tires and drifting the vehicle around a median on which one UDPD officer was standing. These actions posed a safety threat to the officers and others who were in close proximity to the vehicle. As UDPD officers approached the vehicle on foot to address the situation, the driver revved the engine and put the vehicle in reverse, in an attempt to maneuver around the vehicle in front of him and exit through the entrance lane. The driver failed to cooperate with UDPD officers’ request to exit his vehicle, continuing to resist arrest and refusing to listen to instruction from UDPD officers while being placed into custody.”
According to Baqir and witnesses, Sanogo and his family have been advised to not speak on the incident at this time.
Baqir said he plans on making a motion at Christina’s next board meeting to reevaluate every contract the district has with UD to determine if a partnership is appropriate.
Raised in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, Jarek earned a B.A. in journalism and a B.A. in political science from Temple University in 2021. After running CNN’s Michael Smerconish’s YouTube channel, Jarek became a reporter for the Bucks County Herald before joining Delaware LIVE News.
Jarek can be reached by email at [email protected] or by phone at (215) 450-9982. Follow him on Twitter @jarekrutz
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