Demonstrators in El Cajon, California, a San Diego suburb, have protested in the streets for two nights after another unarmed black man was shot dead Tuesday by police. El Cajon police said they killed Alfred Okwera Olango, 38, after he pulled a silver device from his pocket and “pointed” it at them. They revealed Wednesday the object was a three-inch long smoking vape.
Olango has been identified as a mentally ill Ugandan refugee who was fatally shot by one police officer and Tasered by another.
As USA Today reports, a woman identifying herself as Olango’s sister can be seen in a YouTube video saying she called 911 three times for help because her brother was walking into traffic.
“I called three times for them to come help me,” she says, sobbing wildly. “Nobody came. They said it was not priority.”
A few moments later, she adds, “I asked, ‘Don’t kill him, please. He’s sick, he needs help.’” The officer shot Olango about a minute after arriving at the scene, according to the Associated Press.
El Cajon police claimed in a statement that an officer drew his weapon after Olango didn’t remove his hands from his pockets. They claim he then “rapidly drew an object from his front pants pocket, placed both hands together and extended them rapidly toward the officer taking up what appeared to be a shooting stance.”
The object, as they find time to mention a little further down, is a one-inch wide, three-inch long smoking vape. While Olango had two previous felony convictions for drug and weapons offenses, they were from 2000; he had a clean record for the past 16 years.
While the 911 call made by Olango’s sister specifically said that he was “not acting like himself” and made clear that he was emotionally disturbed, police also said that a mental health crisis team was not available:
There have been several questions about the Psychiatric Emergency Response Team (PERT). The El Cajon Police Department does have an agreement with Community Research Foundation / PERT which allows certified licensed clinicians to partner with police officers in the field in order to provide direct support for mental health calls. On 9/27/16, during the hours of this incident, there was a PERT clinician with a police officer. At the specific time of this incident, that team was on a different radio call that was also PERT related. They were not immediately available.
The thing about this case that’s drawing the most attention is that one officer decided to shoot Olango, while another opted for a non-lethal weapon. Citing Reuters, NPR reports that one officer at the scene had extensive mental health training, and it was the other who shot Olango.
Activists are calling for police to release a video shot by the witness of the shooting. They’re also asking for a federal probe into Olango’s death.
El Cajon police are denying rumors that they confiscated other phones at the scene and say that the one witness video voluntarily provided to them shows that the incident happened as they describe: “All video recovered so far in this investigation clearly shows the incident as described above.” They have thus far declined to release the video.
Hundreds of demonstrators have showed up to protest Olango’s death, briefly blocking a freeway exit Wednesday night.
El Cajon Mayor Bill Wells said the protesters have been “angry and loud” but nonviolent, adding, ““I saw a man who was distraught, a man who was acting in ways that looked like he was in great pain, and I saw him get gunned down and killed and it broke my heart. If it was my son, I would be devastated.”
The BBC reports that body cameras have been ordered for the El Cajon police department but haven’t yet arrived.