The surveillance camera captured the early morning hours of May 30, 2016, as several Minneapolis police officers rushed to an SUV, where Mohamed Osman sat behind the wheel. He got out and knelt on the ground. One of them kicked Osman in the stomach. Then Christopher Reiter followed suit with a boot to Osman’s face.
A trial began Tuesday for Reiter, 36, the since-fired officer who was charged with third-degree assault after prosecutors accused him of using excessive force against Osman, who suffered a broken nose and traumatic brain injury. Osman is also suing Reiter for $4 million in damages. Earlier this year the city paid $105,000 to settle with a gas station attendant after Reiter kicked him in a similar incident caught on video.
“His actions were not justified,” assistant Hennepin County attorney Dan Allard argued to the jury during his opening statement.
But Reiter’s attorney, Robert Fowler, argued there is more to the case than the video. Reiter was the first officer on the scene that night responding to a south Minneapolis apartment building on a domestic assault report. Osman had badly beaten his girlfriend, who told Reiter that Osman had left 10 to 15 minutes before he arrived.
“This guy is a clearly violent individual,” Fowler said.
Another officer saw Osman parked outside of the apartment building and radioed the officers who had responded to the domestic abuse call. Reiter’s view of Osman was blocked as he ran from the apartment building, but he believed Osman had a knife and was not complying with officers’ demands to get out of the car, Fowler told the jury. Reiter worried that Osman was a threat to another officer and kicked him to subdue him, Fowler said.
“This is clearly a split-second decision that had to be made,” Fowler told the jury. “His intent was to stop a threat.”
Fowler also painted Osman as unreliable and unsympathetic. He badly beat his girlfriend that night in what Fowler called “a 45-minute beatdown” that included strangling her. Because of that, Fowler told the jury, Reiter was legally justified in using deadly force when apprehending Osman.
Osman would eventually plead guilty to felony domestic assault for beating his girlfriend. On the stand Tuesday, Osman said he took responsibility for the assault.
“I ask everybody to forgive me for what I did,” he said.
But Fowler pushed Osman on his testimony. When Fowler asked about the allegations, Osman said he only pushed the woman. Fowler then showed a picture of the victim, who had severe bruises and injuries on her neck.
“You’re claiming those injuries were from pushing her and not from strangling her throat?” Fowler asked. He then asked about Osman pleading guilty to the assault, including whether he admitted to strangling her.
“I have accepted responsibility for that case,” Osman replied, “And I have done my time for that.”
Osman maintained that he did not resist arrest, saying “I know the law.” He denied having a knife the night he assaulted his girlfriend; a knife was never mentioned in reports filed by Minneapolis police that night.
“If I had a knife in my possession it would not have been included in the police report? I’m the victim here,” he said. “It has been quite some time. Why raise the question now?”
The question of whether Osman had a knife provided an opening for Allard to paint Reiter as uncredible. In later testimony, Reiter’s supervisor that night, Sgt. Deanna Rivard, said Reiter never told her about a knife when he spoke to her that night. Instead, Rivard read a report written by Reiter saying he kicked Osman because he thought Osman was getting up from the ground.
“Any description in there about Osman having a weapon?” Allard asked Rivard.
“No,” she replied.