PHOENIX — On Wednesday, Phoenix City Council voted 7-2 in favor of approving a $5 million settlement agreement with the family of Muhammad Muhaymin Jr., ending a nearly five-year-long legal battle.
Muhaymin died in Phoenix police custody in 2017 while face down, handcuffed and telling officers “I can’t breathe.”
The settlement is the "first step in achieving justice," Muhammad's sister, Mussallina Muyahmin said.
Mussallina's first ask is for the police officers involved in Muhammad's death to be held accountable, she said.
"Agreeing to the settlement sends the message that it wasn't okay what happened to Muhammad," Mussallina said.
She said she hopes the settlement will spark change in the police department. Change that could come as the Department of Justice continues its "pattern or practice" investigation into the Phoenix PD.
Attorney David Chami represents Muhaymin's family and said that the Justice Department had already reached out to the family in regards to their investigation.
Chami is looking forward to speaking with the DOJ in the near future, he said.
"The DOJ's investigation involves a couple of components that were central to our case, and that's dealing with the homeless population, and the police's dealing with people with mental health issues," Chami said. "And those two populations intersect each other."
About 20 percent of the homeless population in America suffers from severe mental illness, compared to the five percent of Americans who suffer from severe mental illness, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the National Institute of Mental Health.
The DOJ is investigating allegations of excessive force and abuse within the Phoenix Police Department; specifically the police response to homeless people and the city's response to people with disabilities.
Chami said that Muhammad's death was not in vain.
"It did spark a conversation and it will change his children's lives," Chami said.
Muhaymin left behind two children who Chami says are great and argued it's a testament to the type of father he was.
For Muhaymin's family, it's difficult to keep reliving what happened, and Wednesday's settlement - and the hope for change - gives them an opportunity to start healing the wound from this tragedy.
"I have children, I have grandchildren. We want them to live in a world that recognized their humanity," Mussallina said.
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