City Paper is not for tourists
Almost a year later, there are still lingering questions about the death of Ali Ahmed Mohammed outside the DC9 nightclub.
One of the most prominent among them: That the young Ethiopian was in a drug-fueled rage on the October night when he allegedlychucked a brick at the club’s window and subsequently ended up dead.
Writing the story of Mohammed’s death, I was told privately by some of the club’s supporters that Mohammed had died of personal recklessness. He was a known addict, they said. He’d gotten high and flown off the handle before, folks claimed, once wrecking a perfectly good Adams Morgan diner. “Find that diner,” I was advised. But the diner never materialized. And now, according to autopsy documents recently obtained by City Desk, the 27-year-old had no illicit chemicals kicking around his system at the time of his death.
After the explosion of glass, Mohammed was allegedly chased down by five DC9 employees. Moments later, he was dead. Cops immediately accused the group of kicking Mohammed to death, touching off a firestorm of protest in D.C.’s Ethiopian communities. “We want justice,” was the most common chant.
But later, the five men were cleared of any criminal wrongdoing. Authorities now believe that upon catching up with Mohammed, the men merely restrained him. In an announcement, the D.C. medical examiner explained that Mohammed’s death was caused by “excited delirium associated with arrhythmogenic cardiac anomalies, alcohol intoxication and physical exertion with restraint.” In other words, while he was being held onto, his heart gave out. Though drugs weren’t mentioned as a cause, “excited delirium” is often associated with drug use. Unlike some other jurisdictions, D.C. doesn’t make its autopsy documents public, so it was impossible to peruse Mohammed’s toxicology report up until now.
At the time of his death, Mohammed tested negative for amphetamines and barbiturates and cannibinoids and cocaine metabolites and metahadone and most others drugs you could name. Dr. Moses Schanfield, a professor of Forensic Science and Anthropology at George Washington University, emails that “different drugs have different metabolic life times” but that for the most part the negative results mean Mohammed hadn’t consumed any drugs in 24-48 hours.
Still, that’s not to say he was completely in control. The “intoxication” the medical examiner mentioned might have been intense. Mohammed’s blood alcohol content was 0.22, that’s significantly over the 0.08 alcohol level D.C. law says impairs drivers. But Schanfield contends it’s difficult to say just how drunk Mohammed was: “How impaired was he? Though there is a good correlation between BAC and impairment, it is modulated by how habituated to alcohol the victim was. If he was an alcoholic he might of been only mildly impaired, if a light drinker he would have been impaired significantly more.”
As someone who reports on crime, I’ve learned a great deal about racial and cultural rifts from Mohammed’s case. And I’ve also learned a thing or two about how we deal with tragedy. Pretty much everyone involved in the case —cops, prosecutors, community advocates, defense attorneys, rockers, reporters—have all, at some point, been dead wrong. And so have the rumor-mongers talking about Mohammed’s drug use.
Photo courtesy of Ali Ahmed Mohammed’s family