By Doug Porter
Thirty-year-old Alfred Olango died of gunshot wounds during a confrontation yesterday with police officers from the City of El Cajon. He was mentally ill, unarmed, and the 197th Black man killed by police in the United States this year.
And the 172nd mentally ill person, according to the NY Daily News.
UPDATE: The family held a press conference Thursday and said reports of chronic mental illness were not true. More details here.
Police responded to calls about a man in the street behaving erratically near a strip mall on Broadway near Mollison Avenue shortly after 2 p.m. One of the callers was Olango’s sister, who told bystanders that she’d warned police about his condition. Friends of the dead man told reporters he was having a mental breakdown that caused him to act out in the minutes leading up to the shooting.
When a reporter on scene asked ECPD spokesman Rob Ransweiler if police knew of any calls that referred to the man as being mentally unstable, the spokesperson said, “I do know the answer to your question, but because it’s an ongoing investigation, I’m gonna decline to answer that question.”
News of the shooting spread quickly throughout the San Diego area. By evening, a crowd, estimated at 200 people gathered to protest, including community leaders and members of local churches who led prayers.
In the context of deaths of Black men following officer-involved shootings, the story quickly gained national attention.
There were early reports saying El Cajon police had confiscated cell phones from witnesses at a nearby restaurant. Later it was said that a phone containing a video of the shooting was voluntarily surrendered to authorities.
After initially saying they would not be releasing the video until the investigation was finished, police released a one still shot later in the evening. It showed two officers pointing weapons at a man in a “stance that police said insinuated he was going to shoot a weapon,” according to the Los Angeles Times.
No weapon was found at the scene.
I’ve just returned from a press conference held outside the El Cajon Police Department building.
Various community leaders addressed questions arising from the shooting, especially asking why the ECPD didn’t dispatch a trained intervention team on a call correctly labeled by the 911 dispatcher as 5150 (mental illness/ distress).
Many spoke of the deep personal anguish they feel after hearing all-too-often about these kinds of events. Racism, it was pointed out, is an everyday thing for Black people in the United States, and these shootings send the message that resistance is futile.
This wouldn’t be East County without some rightwing action, and a few of the #alllivesmatter types attempted to disrupt the press conference.
Rev Shane Harris of the National Action Network told the assembled crowd he’d met with the family of the dead man and that they’d be calling for a Federal investigation.
LIVE on #Periscope: We’re at the @elcajonpolice HQ standing in solidarity with the affected community. #AlfredOlango https://t.co/UHzhDjKjhy
— San Diego ACLU (@SDACLU) September 28, 2016
Lawful but awful? Atty Dan Gilleon on CW6
San Diego DA is investigating the El Cajon shooting. In 155 cases, she’s never found an officer criminally liable: https://t.co/WoL5CizKqZ
— Sara Libby (@SaraLibby) September 28, 2016
I’ll add to this story as new developments occur.
From Think Progress:
When Alfred Olango’s sister called 911 for police to assist him,she had no idea that the officers would kill him. But instead of helping Olango, who was reportedly unarmed and having a psychotic episode, officers fatally shot him, saying he was “acting erratically.”
The siblings were at a shopping center in El Cajon, California on Wednesday afternoon when Olango’s sister reached out to authorities. The 30-year-old man had a history of mental illness and was in the middle of a psychotic break. Police were informed of his mental health status, but when Olango didn’t follow commands, they shot him.
“I called three times for them to come help me,” she said. “Nobody came, they said it’s not priority.”
I’m heading out to El Cajon after I post this and will follow up with reports later in the day.
Here’s some of what I saw on social media last night:
.@elcajonpolice Chief Jeff Davis: it took 50 minutes for officers to respond to scene after suspect’s sister called for assistance.
— Catherine Garcia (@CatherineNBCSD) September 28, 2016
Michael Rodriguez says he saw man with hands up shot my El Cajon PD officers. He heard five shots fired. pic.twitter.com/zC68rXpAxc
— David Hernandez (@D4VIDHernandez) September 28, 2016
Local attorney Dan Gilleon, who handles many lawsuits involving police misconduct:
This cop is a known walking wreck who should have been fired long ago. https://t.co/nuCNgLfYhT
— Dan Gilleon (@dangilleon) September 28, 2016
Failure 2 comply with orders shouldn’t be a death sentence 4 mentally ill! #5150 calls should get a different response #AlfredOlango #BLM
— Christopher R Wilson (@JustAManTrying) September 28, 2016
We have a dead man and a snapshot. Police statements have, frankly, proven to be worth exactly zero in these situations recently. https://t.co/dQGkspkaM6
— Will Moore (@WillMooreSD) September 28, 2016
The crowd iis peacerully asking questions but getting no answers. #BLM #elcajon #gunneddown pic.twitter.com/sbWvIownqA
— Christopher R Wilson (@JustAManTrying) September 28, 2016
Local reporters tout their privilege this morning:
Feeling safe w our security guards covering #ElCajon OIS. We’re live outside @elcajonpolice where protesters plan to rally shortly #NBC7 pic.twitter.com/PlcICzvjAx
— Liberty Zabala (@LibertyNBC7SD) September 28, 2016
I’m not saying that having security is wrong , especially with all the RingWingNutJobs in the East County. But bragging about it sends raises questions. Are you saying it’s already dangerous out there? Are you afraid of what the Black people might do? And if somebody had it in mind to do you harm, doesn’t bragging about your beefy guys give the “bad guys” info?
Finally, a snip from Unspoken Politics nailing the disabled part of this equation:
The killing of a mentally ill man echoes last year’s killing of Fridoon Nehad, which involved a long fight to release surveillance footage of the incident. The details I covered in December 2015 here. A big similarity in these cases is the difference between being erratic and being dangerous. Erratic behavior has many sources- in Olango’s case it looks like a seizure is the reason. A variety of disorders like bipolar disorder, schizoaffective disorder, schizophrenia, and some types of depression can also make individuals confused and incapable of responding to police demands- which are often given loudly, on top of one another, and with a very small time window for compliance. At my low point in 2012 when my mental health was worst, I could have easily been described as erratic. And I now realize that can put my life at risk, in a way never before considered.
Police protocol in these cases is infested with ableism. It assumes a perfectly compliant, quick, enthusiastic response to police orders. If someone fails on any of these counts, their life can be in danger. Sometimes the cops will just open fire before any real attempt at less-lethal options- Fridoon Nehad was shot by an officer who spent about 25 seconds from parking his car to killing him. But consider the case of Charles Kinsey, a black man shot for trying to help a young autistic man in his care, Arnaldo Rios. Kinsey served a perfectly compliant surrogate for someone who was unable to do so, and yet police did open fire on Rios, missing and hitting Kinsey instead. The resulting trauma for Rios has been awful, with him not getting proper therapy. But many people with mental or development disorders don’t survive their encounters with police. Robert Ethan Saylor, who had Down’s Syndrome,was tackled and asphyxiated over a dispute about a movie ticket. Again, defensive behavior or tics was interpreted as a threat. People who are deaf or hard of hearing routinely suffer from violence, since a basic assumption is that all people can hear instructions. And of course, many people don’t speak English, so being yelled at in the foreign language is just confusing and may lead to so-called ‘erratic’ actions. Police always filter civilian behavior through a lens of perfect ability. That is, those who are not fully able and somehow lesser and more likely to be targets of violence. The most vulnerable sections of the population are threatened by the institutions that in theory should protect and serve them.
These issues would be much less prevalent if American police really committed to deescalation, and had proper understanding of the symptoms and nature of mental illness. I was even part of a county program in 2014 that helped explain mental illness and stigma to schools, crisis lines, and yes, police departments. But it’s not working- street-level cops still can’t process disability at any level. The existence of the ADA, and the sense that people with mental and physical disabilities have rights has no place among the police.
bob dorn says
This one is going to be a local bomb blast. Even paradise, which El Cajon is not, is a bad place to be mentally ill, especially when police have forgotten their training. We need a law enforcement equivalent of the oath sworn by medical doctors: First, do no harm. Overly simple? Maybe. But at the very least the departments ought to be ordered retrained and restrained. If the DA and the civilian review boards continue to look for escape routes they too should be held responsible for their failures.
CV White says
Doug, thank you for writing an article that really attempts to deal with the terrible complexities of this situation.
This is the intersection of race, mental health, and likely the level of care that the majority of people (often low-income) in this country receive for mental and physical health. This does not seem like a simple case of a man not following orders and, even so, is that really justification for killing another human before taking the time to understand the situation? The fact that they took 50 minutes to arrive, did not use a PERT team, and tasered and shot him at the same time, all point to the terrible inadequacies in modern policing, including racism and ableism.
As Andrew Mackay makes clear in the Unspoken Politics piece above, police must be trained to deal with humans and their actual behaviors– not just a lacking and too often deadly reaction based on an idealized view of how things “should be.” The fact that they have PERT resources, did not use them, and now another man of color is dead, is a terrible reflection on exactly how modern day “law and order” fails the most vulnerable among us, and how, instead of helping people and saving lives, we only create more tragedy.
Looking at the first photo in this LA Times article, the victim is holding his hands together and in a crouched stance, but there’s no way to see whether or not he was actually holding anything. Sadly, many cops are so on edge that their willing to shoot first and deal with the possible consequences later, of which more often than not their aren’t any, or very minimal. Also it appears one of the officers is black. Makes one wonder if even black officers are more quick to shoot black suspects than white.
They’re, not their.
The Chief needs to be held accountable and in the interest of transparency and build trust with the community should:
1. a. Explain why such a self serving inflammatory still image from a video was released to the public when he already knew that no firearm was involved in the shooting.
b. Why does he refuse to identify what was in the distressed mentally ill victim’s hand when killed by police
2. a. Does the El Cajon PD have a Deadly Use of Force policy?
b. If not, why not?
c. If it does, what is the policy?
d. Was the policy followed?
e. How might the policy be modified to better conform to proposed national standards which are designed to enhance safety of the public and police.?
3. What training do El Cajon officers receive to safely interact with the mentally ill?
4. What is policy to de-escalate interactions with the public and particularly people of color before they become violent?
5. What is the El Cajon PD Use of Force Continuum/ Matrix?
Bonnie Bekken says
EL Cajon. LIved there for two years, rented a home after our home disintegrated in the Cedar Fire, and no one in the neighborhood spoke to us: we were transients, moving into a rental home, so we were perceived as lowlife among homeowners. Sad about El Cajon, but having endured years there while dealing with an insurance company, trying to get beyond losing everything we had after 40 years of marriage, I get why something this horrendous, the murder of a young Black man, he mentally challenged, misunderstood, was not respected. Coincidentally, or not, I worked at that time at the Viking Center with Developmentally Disabled kids, not unlike this young man. No pride there, in El Cajon, just anger because things aren’t what the sad citizens wished their America would be, for them. The PD reflect the citizenry.