EL CAJON, Calif. — For a second consecutive night, protesters gathered Wednesday in El Cajon, California, holding signs and demanding accountability following an officer-involved shooting of an unarmed black man.
Alfred Okwera Olango, 38, pulled a vape smoking device from his pocket and pointed it at police before one officer fatally shot him and another discharged a Taser, El Cajon Police said.
His death set off demonstrations in the San Diego suburb as activists demanded that authorities release video of the shooting. They also want a federal probe into Olango’s death.
Some protesters threw water bottles at police while others gathered in the street and parking lot where the shooting happened. Many held signs saying “black lives matter” as police wearing helmets with shields looked on.
‘They don’t feel heard’
Police have released little information except for a still photograph showing Olango in what authorities described as a “shooting stance,” facing off with the two officers in a parking lot.
By Wednesday evening, police identified the object as a the vaping device. The identity of one of the officers was revealed as Richard Gonsalves, a 21-year veteran of the force.
In a news conference, Mayor Bill Wells did not identify the second officer, except to say he was also a 21-year veteran of the force.
Wells said he understood the frustration of demonstrators, who blocked a freeway exit for a period of time on Wednesday.
The protests were “angry and loud” but peaceful, he said.
“It’s their First Amendment right,” he said. “I understand that they don’t feel heard. I understand that they’re wanting more information.”
Wells said he had seen the video and that it pained him. But he called for patience as the investigation runs its course.
“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,” he said. “If it was my son, I would be devastated.”
Not acting like himself
On Tuesday afternoon, El Cajon Police responded to a 911 call reporting an black man in his 30s who was behaving “erratically” behind a restaurant at the Broadway Village Shopping Center, Lt. Rob Ransweiler said.
According to the call, the man was “not acting like himself” and had been walking in traffic, endangering himself and motorists, Police Chief Jeff Davis said.
The woman calling 911 claimed to be the man’s sister and told the dispatcher that he was mentally ill and unarmed, Davis said. Investigators have not been able to confirm whether the caller was the man’s sister, he said.
“We tried to get her to talk to us. As you can understand, she was upset. She was not cooperating with us,” the chief said, asking the woman to come forward to speak with investigators.
Officers did not respond to the first 911 call for 50 minutes because “it did take us that long to clear officers to get out there,” Davis said.
Once they arrived, Olango kept his hands concealed in his pockets while pacing back and forth. As a second officer prepared a Taser, the man “rapidly drew an object,” placed both hands on it “like you would be holding a firearm,” Davis said.
One officer fired his gun at Olango, while a second officer discharged his Taser, he said. Both are on three-day administrative leave.
El Cajon Police’s homicide unit will investigate the shooting, and the district attorney’s office will review it, Davis said. Asked if he should consult an outside agency to investigate the incident, the police chief said, “I trust my investigators. I trust the system. I trust the protocol, the district attorney’s office and the FBI.”
No trust in prosecutors to investigate police
Such assurances have done little assure the community.
The Rev. Shane Harris, president of the San Diego chapter of the National Action Network, called the decision to release the photo “cowardly.” Harris, who said he had spoken to Olango’s family, was one of several speakers addressing reporters in front of the El Cajon Police headquarters.
“We do not trust local prosecutors to investigate local police,” he said, explaining the family’s desire for a federal investigation.
Harris questioned how police could release such a seemingly damning photo while purporting to pursue all the facts and refusing to release video from witnesses and those at a nearby restaurant.
“We don’t want to see a still picture of him pointing something that is not gun,” added Bishop Cornelius Bowser of the Charity Apostolic Church. “…The best way to move forward right now is through transparency.”
Citing a countywide protocol pertaining to officer-involved shootings, Davis said Tuesday he was merely following guidelines in not making the video public. His department released the photo to counter “disinformation,” he said.
“This (video) is considered evidence, and until it is deemed otherwise, it will be under the control of the district attorney’s office,” he said.
‘They killed my brother’
In the aftermath of the shooting and Olango’s death, Rumbie Mubaiwa began filming the area on Facebook Live.
In the video, a distraught woman said she called 911 to get help for the man she said was her brother. She described him as “sick.”
Several police were at the scene. One interviewed a witness and two put up yellow police tape. Several officers could be seen congregating in the background as the sister sat on a rock as she wailed.
“You guys killed my brother in front of me,” she cried, as Mubaiwa records the scene. “Why couldn’t you guys Tase him? Why? Why? Why? Why?”
Police have not confirmed whether the woman in the Facebook Live footage was Olango’s sister. Christoper Rice-Wilson, the director of civic engagement for Alliance San Diego, told reporters Wednesday that family members requested privacy while they grieve and would make statements at some point in the future.