Facing public pressure, the Portland Police Department is reopening its investigation into a 2014 incident in which a Somali mother of five was allegedly “attacked” and seriously injured by an officer.
Hamdia Ahmed, a high-profile Maine activist and model who’s helped organize recent protests in Portland against police brutality, said the incident took place at Maine Medical Center’s West End hospital, where one of her sisters was being treated for an illness. Ahmed’s mother, Mumina Ali, had visited the hospital to check on her child and apparently became distressed. According to Ahmed, her mother, who does not speak much English, tried to communicate with a Portland cop at the hospital, but the male officer was unable to understand her.
“Instead of helping her, he grabbed her by the hand and [threw] her to the floor,” Ahmed wrote in a public account of the incident. “He put his knee of her neck until she was having a hard time breathing. My mother kept saying, ‘I have asthma.’ After a couple of minutes, he got off her.”
The officer, realizing Ali was injured, called hospital staff for assistance, Ahmed wrote. According to Ahmed, a nurse then put a “sock” in her mother’s mouth to stop her from screaming and placed Ali in a private room for treatment. Ali still needs in-home medical care due to the “neck/shoulder injury” she sustained during the encounter, Ahmed said.
“I am not dead or living my life the right way because I am always in pain,” said Ali, according to her daughter.
Ahmed said her mother filed a complaint against the police department at the time, “but that officer was never held accountable,” she wrote. “They said that the officer did nothing wrong.”
According to Ahmed, her mother’s complaint was investigated by then-Portland Police Chief Mike Sauschuck, “who had a bias against my family during the time this occurred.” Sauschuck, who joined the force in the mid-1990s, served as chief from 2012 to 2018, when Gov. Janet Mills appointed him to lead Maine’s Department of Public Safety.
On June 10, Ahmed posted her account on the website change.org, and over 3,700 people have since signed her online petition calling for the investigation to be reopened. She shared the petition with Portland Mayor Kate Snyder, who responded on June 11: “As an elected official, I rely on the city’s professional staff to manage issues like this.” Snyder forwarded Ahmed’s message to City Manager Jon Jennings.
Black Lives Matter and other local activists have been calling for Jennings to be fired this month for his “racist history” of public service, including his promotion of policies that they say criminalize poverty, promote gentrification, and hurt immigrants and refugees. Snyder and the Portland City Council defended Jennings in response to BLM’s demand, pointing out that he enacts the policies that they approve.
Earlier this week, Jennings informed Snyder and Ahmed via e-mail that the police department “has reopened this case and is taking a fresh look and investigating the circumstances.”
A spokesman for the department did not immediately return a request for comment today.
Ahmed has since started another online campaign, a GoFundMe page to hire a lawyer to ensure her mother’s complaint is “thoroughly investigated” this time. Within a day, it has raised over $4,100 toward her $10,000 goal.
In addition to her civil rights work, Ahmed is a UNICEF USA advocate. Ali gave birth to her during a grueling 370-mile walk from Somali to the sprawling Dadaab refugee facility in Kenya, where Ahmed spent the first seven years of her life. Ali and her children came to the U.S. in 2005. In 2017, Ahmed was the first Miss Maine contestant to compete wearing a hijab and burkini, she wrote in a 2019 essay for Bustle. She graduated from the University of Southern Maine with a degree in political science last year.
“My family has been treated poorly by the Portland police and many others have been treated in the same way,” Ahmed told Mainer. “The police need to be held accountable.”