British prosecutors announced a murder charge on Wednesday for a police officer accused of fatally shooting a Black man in south London last year during a botched arrest operation, a rare move in a case that has prompted calls for greater police accountability.
Chris Kaba, 24, was killed while driving his car through the south London district of Streatham Hill in September last year. The shooting prompted widespread outrage in London’s Black community amid plummeting public trust in the city’s police force, which has been dogged by accusations of racism and misogyny.
The police first flagged Mr. Kaba’s car after an automatic license plate tracker identified it as being potentially linked to a firearm incident, according to the Independent Office for Police Conduct, a watchdog that handles complaints against officers in Britain.
Officers in unmarked vehicles then pursued Mr. Kaba for about 15 minutes without turning on their headlights or sirens, investigators said. After he turned left at an intersection toward a waiting marked police vehicle, armed officers exited their vehicles to arrest him.
The officer — identified only as NX121 — fired a single shot that pierced the car’s windshield and struck Mr. Kaba in the head, fatally wounding him, according to investigators. At some point during the confrontation, Mr. Kaba’s car also struck one of the police cars, investigators said.
Mr. Kaba was unarmed, according to his family and attorneys. The police watchdog said that “no nonpolice-issue firearm” was present on the scene.
The shooting of Mr. Kaba — who was soon to become a first-time father, according to his family — prompted hundreds to rally in September last year in front of New Scotland Yard, the headquarters of London’s Metropolitan Police Service, to demand that the police be held accountable.
Mr. Kaba’s family hailed the decision to charge the officer involved, who is set to appear in court in London on Thursday.
“Chris was so very loved by our family and all his friends. He had a bright future ahead of him, but his life was cut short,” the Kaba family said on Wednesday in a statement provided by their legal team. “Our family and our wider community must see justice for Chris.”
In a statement on Wednesday, the police said the officer had been suspended from duty. The courts were considering whether to continue to grant the officer anonymity, the police said.
The police have “supported the I.O.P.C. investigation as it has worked to establish the facts,” said Helen Millichap, the London police’s deputy assistant commissioner for local policing. “Our thoughts are with everyone affected by this case,” she added.
The Metropolitan Police Service, informally known as the Met, is charged with overseeing law enforcement in London. But the force has been dogged by accusations of discrimination and high-profile cases of police criminality.
In 2021, a police officer pleaded guilty to the rape and murder of Sarah Everard, 31, a crime that horrified Britain and prompted an outcry against the police force. In February, another police officer, David Carrick, was sentenced to life in prison for what prosecutors called “a relentless campaign of sexually and mentally abusing women.”
A wide-ranging government report said this year that the Met was troubled by falling public faith in the institution, widespread racism and misogyny, and a lack of transparency. In response, the police force announced what it described as its “largest reform of culture and standards in decades” on Tuesday. Over 100 Metropolitan Police officers had been dismissed for gross misconduct over the past year, an increase of 66 percent, the force said.
Critics also say the British authorities have struggled to penalize excessive use of force by officers. According to Inquest, an advocacy group, at least 1,871 people have been killed during or following British police custody or contact since 1990.
Only one officer has been successfully prosecuted for manslaughter over the same period, and none for murder, the group said.
In 2017, lawmakers revamped Britain’s police misconduct investigation agency, the Independent Office for Police Conduct, in an attempt to bolster public trust in the body. But it too has faced unwanted scandal: Its first chief resigned in 2022 and was later charged with sexually assaulting a minor in the 1980s.