El Cajon, CA — Countless questions have yet to be answered in the fatal shooting by police in El Cajon, California, of an unarmed black man in the midst of a mental health crisis.
“Oh, my God, you killed my brother!”
Alfred Okwera Olango “was not acting like himself” — allegedly walking into traffic on Broadway in the San Diego suburb — and so concerned his sister, she repeatedly called for assistance early Tuesday afternoon. Two El Cajon Police officers responded to the call, and found Olango behind a restaurant, according to Chief Jeff Davis, quoted by the Los Angeles Times.
According to Davis, the man “concealed his hands in his pants pockets” and refused to obey ‘multiple’ unspecified commands from the officers as he paced back and forth in the parking lot.
Davis claims the officers spoke to Olango during this time, though he did not specify whether that communication comprised only commands, or — given the original call indicated a man with mental health issues — included even cursory offers to attain psychiatric assistance.
Davis explained that as the officers spoke to Olango, he “rapidly drew an object from his front pants pockets, placed both hands together on it and extended it rapidly toward [one] officer, taking what appeared to be a shooting stance.”
No weapon was found at the scene, and the object in question turned out to be a ‘vape smoking device with a silver “cylinder that is approximately 1” diameter and 3” long that was pointed toward the officer,” police were quoted explaining in a statement cited by the Times.
This rapid escalation by Olango prompted markedly different responses by the two cops — one officer deployed his Taser, while the other fired several shots, which later proved lethal.
Footage of the aftermath uploaded to YouTube shows Olango’s distraught sister tearfully demanding of the now-sizable crowd of police how an honest call for assistance went so grievously awry.
“Don’t you guys have a crisis communication team to deal with the mentally sick?” she tearfully demands.
“Why couldn’t you tase him? Why, why, why, why?”
Devastated at the astonishing turn of events, she reiterates through tears, “I called for help! I didn’t call you guys to kill him!”
El Cajon police have yet to be equipped with body-worn cameras, though a witness claimed to have captured the shooting on cell phone video, and reportedly willingly turned it over to authorities.
In fact, although authorities refuse to release that video in full, they did disclose a single still frame — showing the alleged moment Olango took the “shooting stance” Davis described.
In other words, El Cajon Police fed the public precisely the most keenly advantageous and purposely exiguous piece of evidence — allowing them to stall disclosing the entire video, while crafting themselves in a temporary cloak of innocence, without any other circumstances to support or destroy the integrity of their own narrative.
Meanwhile, Mayor Bill Wells identified one of the officers involved in the incident — without specifying whether he fired the shots or discharged the Taser — as Richard Gonsalves, a 21-year veteran of the department.
Once a sergeant, Gonsalves was demoted last year amid allegations he sexually harassed and intimidated colleague Officer Christine Greer.
In a lawsuit filed against Gonsalves and the city in 2015, Greer alleged the officer made repeated, unwelcome sexual advances — including a text with an image of his penis, and a drunken proposition Gonsalves join Greer and her wife for a ménage à trois — and that other women in the department faced similar harassment.
Gonsalves received only a demotion from sergeant to officer following two investigations into the matter — and, despite furious demands from the public he be terminated, City Manager Douglas Williford has consistently defended the choice.
Although Greer ultimately settled that lawsuit, she filed a second in August alleging retaliation by male coworkers for the first, and contends she’s been forced to work alongside Gonsalves.
Olango came to the United States from Uganda after a period of time spent in a refugee camp with relative, Agnes Hassan, who told reporters in a press conference she was heartbroken over the fatal shooting:
“We suffered too much with the war in Africa … we come here to suffer again. What happened yesterday, it wasn’t right.”
Protests began shortly after the shooting and have continued since. Demonstrators decry yet another killing by American police of an unarmed black man — particularly as Olango had been in obvious need of assistance.
However, as an inordinate number of people experiencing mental health crises are killed by cops trained, essentially, to assess threats — this cruel tragedy again highlights the glaring deficit and imperative for reform.
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