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Cambridge Police Officer Who Fatally Shot Sayed Faisal Will Not Be Prosecuted Following Inquest

Protesters rally on the steps of the City Hall Annex earlier this year, waving signs and calling for justice following the police killing of Sayed Faisal.
Protesters rally on the steps of the City Hall Annex earlier this year, waving signs and calling for justice following the police killing of Sayed Faisal. By Ryan H. Doan-Nguyen
By Ryan H. Doan-Nguyen and Yusuf S. Mian, Crimson Staff Writers

The Cambridge Police Department officer who shot and killed 20-year-old Sayed Faisal in January will not be prosecuted after a Massachusetts judge found his actions to be “objectively reasonable.”

The finding by Massachusetts District Court Judge John F. Coffey comes at the close of a monthslong investigation by the Middlesex District Attorney’s Office into the police killing of Faisal. On Thursday, District Attorney Marian T. Ryan released the full findings of the investigation, which for the first time named CPD officer Liam McMahon as the officer who shot and killed Faisal.

McMahon, a fourth-generation Cambridge Police officer, has been with the department for eight years. He has never received a complaint, according to a January statement from CPD spokesperson Jeremy C. Warnick.

Ryan confirmed that she would not file charges against McMahon in a Friday press release and expressed condolences to Faisal’s family.

“My condolences have been and remain with the family of Sayed Arif Faisal and those who continue to feel the profound pain of his passing,” she wrote.

The inquest corroborated CPD’s summary of the events leading up to Faisal’s death. A Jan. 4 press release by Cambridge Police stated that officers responded to a 911 call after Faisal was seen harming himself with a knife and glass from a broken window. Faisal did not respond to officers’ commands to drop the knife and fled the scene — leading to a foot chase through Cambridgeport that ended in Faisal being fatally shot by police.

According to the inquest report, an eyewitness “described Faisal as wild-eyed and frantic” and observed CPD officers chasing Faisal while “calmly” attempting to engage with him.

Eventually, several officers cornered Faisal in a residential backyard and deployed “a single hard sponge-like projectile intended to temporarily subdue an individual” after Faisal moved towards officers, the inquest report states. Faisal then pointed his knife at McMahon and walked towards him “briskly.”

McMahon began to back up from Faisal and said, “Drop the knife, don’t make me do this.”

After Faisal got “within five to ten feet of him,” McMahon fired six shots, with the last knocking Faisal to the ground. Officers administered emergency aid and Faisal was transported to Massachusetts General Hospital, where he later died from blood loss, according to the report.

“No officer ever wants to be put in the position where they have to use fatal force, and if it happens it stays with each of us forever,” Elow said in a Thursday statement on the inquest.

Marsha V. Kazarosian, an attorney for Faisal’s family, wrote in a statement Tuesday that the family would continue to pursue other avenues for justice.

“We disagree with the Court’s conclusions and findings. The reports and photographs submitted by the District Attorney’s office only after testimony concluded, directly contradict the police account of the shooting,” Kazarosian wrote. “Sayed’s family is considering other legal remedies to ensure there is justice for Sayed and accountability of the officers and the City.”

In a Friday statement following the release of the inquest, City Manager Yi-An Huang ’05 wrote that the inquest highlighted the challenges in responding to mental health crises.

“The report highlights the complex, difficult, and dangerous situations our police officers face, and the challenge for us as a community to understand split-second decisions that can have tragic outcomes,” Huang wrote.

Faisal’s killing has spurred more than a dozen protests, including interruptions of Cambridge City Council meetings and a weeklong picket outside City Hall. Protesters have repeatedly called for the officer who shot Faisal to be fired and prosecuted.

In an interview, Suhail P. Purkar — an organizer with the Party for Socialism and Liberation, which has organized many of the protests and supports police abolition — said that he is “very disappointed, but not surprised.”

“They would consider this, you know, a justifiable action,” Purkar said. “What does it say about the law that a police officer can kill a student in broad daylight, and that’s something that is considered universally all right?”

Purkar referred to Huang and CPD Commissioner Christine A. Elow as “spineless bureaucrats” who “want to absolve any sense of responsibility from their hands” and repeated calls for McMahon to be fired.

“That’s something that the City of Cambridge still has the power to do,” Purkar said.

Kenneth H. Anderson, an attorney for McMahon, wrote in an email Tuesday that they “stand by the findings” of the inquest.

“Nobody wanted the outcome that occurred, but given all of the evidence produced during the inquest, no one can seriously question the actions of Officer McMahon,” Anderson wrote.

Warnick referred to the report’s conclusion that McMahon’s actions were “justified” when asked for comment on the calls for McMahon to be fired.

In his statement Friday, Huang also highlighted reforms that the city has implemented in the wake of Faisal’s killing, including working towards body cameras, the creation of a procedural justice dashboard, and hiring more workers for the Community Safety Department — a city-sponsored police response alternative.

Huang noted that the City will continue to work with the Police Executive Research Forum, a national police think tank that, earlier this year, released a report stating that Cambridge officials had the authority to release the names of the involved officers in the immediate aftermath of the shooting.

“As a community member, I still feel betrayed by this, but it didn’t come as a surprise, said Party for Socialism and Liberation member Tamid Rahman, referring to the findings of the inquest. Rahman added the turnouts at recent protests, however, give him optimism.

In response to the inquest’s findings, Councilor Quinton Y. Zondervan wrote in a post on X that there is “nothing reasonable about this difficult moment.”

“As long as the police are armed and legally protected, they will continue to shoot to kill. The response to a distraught person with a knife cannot be a cop with a gun,” he wrote.

On Wednesday evening, the Party for Socialism and Liberation — alongside the Bangladesh Association of New England and the Boston South Asian Coalition — will host a rally and speakout at City Hall. Among their demands is the firing of McMahon.

“It’s still in people’s attention. And it’s still in people’s minds. We’ll see what happens on Wednesday,” Rahman said. “We’re not going to just forget and move on. Instead, we’re going to keep fighting until we can make sure this doesn’t happen again.”

—Staff writer Ryan H. Doan-Nguyen can be reached at Follow him on X @ryandoannguyen or on Threads @ryandoannguyen.

—Staff writer Yusuf S. Mian can be reached at Follow him on X @yusuf_mian2 or on Threads @yusuf_mian.

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