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El Cajon Shooting Protesters Plan Saturday Night Marches

Reported by Kris Arciaga

UPDATE: 6:41 p.m., Oct. 1, 2016

A group of about 250 protesters peacefully marched from Balboa Park to the Hall of Justice in downtown San Diego Saturday evening.

UPDATE: 4:32 p.m., Oct. 1, 2016

A group of about 10 people marched from Logan Heights to San Diego police headquarters in downtown San Diego Saturday. They chanted, "No justice, no peace, no racist police," as they walked through Golden Hill on their way to downtown.

The marchers were assembled by community group Black and Blue United. Ashli Taylor said even though the San Diego Police Department was not involved in the fatal shooting of Alfred Olango — he was shot by an El Cajon police officer — all communities and their police departments should have a dialogue.

"We want to see if we can find solutions that can spread from San Diego throughout the nation," Taylor said.

The demonstration was peaceful. A police cruiser trailed behind the group, and other officers were stationed at freeway access points along the route. On Wednesday, demonstrators in El Cajon blocked freeway onramps.

Another San Diego march is scheduled for 5 to 8 p.m. from Balboa Park to the Hall of Justice.

Demonstrations have remained relatively peaceful since El Cajon police and the district attorney released video of Tuesday's shooting. In a press release sent Saturday afternoon, El Cajon Police Lt. Rob Ransweiler said there was one assault reported during Friday night's protests, but no arrests and no property damage.

Photo by Megan Burks

A group of protesters walk through Golden Hill, Oct. 1, 2016.

UPDATE: 2 p.m., Oct. 1, 2016

At least two marches protesting the shooting death of an unarmed black man in El Cajon are planned for Saturday evening.

Black and Blue United, a group that "represents the bruises within the police and black communities," has scheduled a march from the San Diego Central Police Station on Imperial Avenue in Logan Heights to police headquarters on Broadway in downtown San Diego. Organizers are urging marchers to be peaceful.

The San Diego Party for Socialism and Liberation is calling on people to gather at the One World Beat Café on Park Boulevard in Balboa Park to hear speakers and march to the Hall of Justice, also on Broadway in downtown San Diego.

More than 100 people have indicated on Facebook they plan to attend the events.

UPDATE: 12:20 p.m., Oct. 1, 2016

A crowd that attended a morning prayer service for Alfred Olango, a Ugandan immigrant who died after being shot by police Tuesday, peacefully marched from Prescott Promenade Park in El Cajon to the city's government complex Saturday.

About 300 people gathered at the park to hear from religious leaders, including the Rev. Dr. Felix Villanueva.

"I am a combat veteran and I was in Iraq with the U.S. Marines, and I have seen our police force becoming more and more militaristic. In the process, they do something that they don't know how to do," said Villanueva, who heads the United Church of Christ in Southern California and Nevada. "Leave the war to the warriors. They are the ones who trained to do that. Police officers should be guardians — guardians of our safety, guardians of our communities."

Photo by Kris Arciaga

A crowd of several hundred demonstrators march peacefully down Main Street in El Cajon, Oct. 1, 2016. They carry signs that read "Not One More" and "I Am Alfred Olango." Police officers fatally shot Olango, a Ugandan immigrant living in El Cajon, Sept. 27, 2016.

The Rev. Marshall Sharpe, pastor at Phillips Temple Christian Methodist Episcopal Church in San Diego, said the majority of law enforcement officers are good, but that policy and training need to be changed.

"I would use the example of a few weeks ago, when the bomber was apprehended in the New Jersey area," Sharpe said, referring to a Sept. 17 bombing and attempted bombing in New York and New Jersey. "Those law enforcement folks purposely shot him to wound him, not to kill him. If they can do that, they can do it in our communities."

On Tuesday, El Cajon Police Officer Richard Gonsalves quickly fired four bullets at Olango shortly after arriving at the scene. Another officer, Josh McDaniel, deployed a Taser. Olango later died of his injuries.

El Cajon Police say Olango took a "shooting stance" and pointed an object, which turned out to be an e-cigarette, at the officers. A still photo police took from cell phone video of the incident appears to confirm their statement, but in the full video released Friday Olango's actions are less clear.

An investigation is ongoing.

On Saturday, Olango's brother, Apollo Olango, thanked the community for its ongoing support.

"Thank you for helping my brother's name never be forgotten and his passing not be in vain," he said. "You've given us all strength."

UPDATE: 10:32 a.m., Oct. 1, 2016

Photo by Kris Arciaga

About 200 people gather at Prescott Promenade Park in El Cajon for a prayer service following the police shooting death of Ugandan immigrant Alfred Olango, Oct. 1, 2016.

About 300 people gathered at Prescott Promenade Park in El Cajon Saturday morning for a prayer service honoring Alfred Olango, who was killed in a police shooting Tuesday. Organizers said the crowd will march through city streets following the service.

Saturday marks the fifth day of largely peaceful demonstrations. The most unruly gathering occurred Thursday night as crowds demanded the release of surveillance and cell phone footage of the shooting. The Associated Press reports one officer was struck in the head with a brick during the protest.

The El Cajon Police Department and District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis released the videos the following day.

A spokesman for the El Cajon Police Department said Saturday he is unaware of any arrests resulting from demonstrations Friday night. He said the department would have a presence at Saturday's events but could not say how many officers would be deployed.

Original Story

Protesters took to the streets of El Cajon for a fourth night after police shot an unarmed Ugandan immigrant on Tuesday.

About 200 protesters gathered in a demonstration that remained largely peaceful through the evening. They walked for about two hours chanting “touch one, touch all,” “hand’s up, don’t shoot” and “no justice, no peace” around the site where 38-year-old Alfred Olango was killed. While many El Cajon businesses decided to close their doors until Sunday, there were no immediate reports of looting or arrests on Friday night.

Photo caption:

Photo by Erik Anderson

A memorial is built near the spot where Alfred Olango was killed by police in El Cajon, Sept. 30, 2016.

On Friday afternoon, the El Cajon Police Department released two videos of police shooting Olango. His sister called the police Tuesday afternoon to report her brother was suffering from a mental episode. Police arrived on the scene 50 minutes later, and within one minute shot and killed Olango.

Police Chief Jeff Davis said Friday he decided to release two videos — one recorded on a cellphone by a witness and the other surveillance-camera footage — to counter a "false narrative ... that could be dangerous to the community."

His decision came after a night of increasingly violent protests on Thursday. Protesters stopped vehicles, broke car windows, knocked a motorcycle rider to the ground and hurled rocks, bottles and bricks at law enforcement personnel, said Lt. Rob Ransweiler, a spokesman for the El Cajon Police Department. Officers used tear-gas and pepper balls to disperse the crowds. Five people were arrested. Tuesday and Wednesday nights’ protests were mostly peaceful.

"In addition to investigating this officer-involved shooting, I have a commitment to keep this community safe," Davis said. "I based my decision on that. Our only concern at this point was community safety. We felt that the aggression of some — some — of the protesters was escalating to the point where it was necessary to release some information."

Davis had originally said he could not release the videos because they were part of an ongoing investigation. He did release a still image from one of the videos on Tuesday which showed Olango in a “shooting stance” pointing a vape pen at the two officers.

He said while the investigation is still continuing, public safety needs were more important.

WARNING: Video shows unedited footage of fatal El Cajon police shooting of Alfred Olango

Davis said Olango’s family was asked to view the video and be at the news conference where it was released, but they declined.

Dan Gilleon, the attorney representing the Olango family, said that’s not true. He said the family did not turn down the meeting but, rather, needed more time to get to the meeting. Gilleon said the family was not informed the video would be released to the media.

The two video snippets show officers Richard Gonsalves and Josh McDaniel approaching Olango, seen striding through a parking area and then pacing back and forth next to a parked pickup truck. Following a brief face-off, gunshots sound, and Olango collapses to the pavement.

Officials have confirmed that Gonsalves fired his service gun at Olango as McDaniel simultaneously shot him with a Taser.

In the immediate aftermath of the shooting, one witness told reporters that Olango had his hands raised when he was fatally wounded, and others said he had been suffering a seizure.

Police officials have countered that Olango was uncooperative, repeatedly refused to remove his hand from his pocket, assumed "what appeared to be a shooting stance" and pointed a vape pen at Gonsalves.

Photo by El Cajon Police Department

El Cajon police officers confront Alfred Olango in the parking lot of a taco shop, Sept. 27, 2016.

"This is as difficult a situation as any officer will ever encounter and is never one we seek," Davis said. "That being the case, a tragic event occurred that took a life and had a major impact on our community. For the sake of the well-being of the community, the decision was made to show you this video and provide copies to the media."

Several local African-American community leaders hailed the release of the visual clips.

The Rev. Gerald Brown, executive director the United African-American Ministerial Action Council, commended the police chief and District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis for making the footage available to the public as a means of reducing the potential for discord and lawlessness.

"It is OK to protest, but we want folks to protest in peace," Brown said. "We want to make sure that everyone's safe, everyone gets home. We want to make sure that the (police) officers are safe, as well."

Andre Branch, president of the San Diego office of the NAACP, said the agency wanted to "both applaud and commend Chief Jeff Davis and the city of El Cajon for releasing this video."

"The NAACP believes that this is the action that should follow any and all police-involved shootings," Branch said. "Full disclosure to the public builds trust, and it demonstrates respect. We are quite pleased that Chief Davis has decided to take this action."

Photo caption:

Photo by AP Photo/Denis Poroy

Protesters yell at police officers in front of the El Cajon Police Department headquarters before a news conference, Sept. 30, 2016.

Friday morning, East County religious leaders held a prayer meeting outside El Cajon police headquarters, where some of the angry and despairing demonstrations over the fatal police shooting have taken place.

The Rev. Rolland Slade of Meridian Baptist Church called for transparency, transformation and kindness in a nation that has "seen division and separation long enough."

"The events of Tuesday, September 27 were tragic, and they must be acknowledged," he said. "We, Lord — the region, the community, the neighborhood, the family of Alfred Olango — have been dramatically changed."

El Cajon resident Tina Lane, 24, said she told her 7-year-old son Tony to stop playing with toy guns because he’s black and she’s afraid the police will shoot him. She said she moved to California from Chicago to escape violence.

“In my city that’s all that happens, you see police killing people every day,” she said. “It’s the norm and I wanted my son to grow up and not have that be the norm for him. And I thought it was a peaceful place and I can see right now it’s not. And I’m just sickened and I’m sad.”

On Thursday, relatives and supporters of Olango gathered to decry the killing and pledge to fight for justice while calling for peaceful protests.

"We do believe that Alfred Olango was unjustly killed," the Rev. Shane Harris, president of the National Action Network-San Diego, said during a Thursday afternoon news conference. "We do believe that the officer who shot him five times did this with misconduct, and that is why we are here today."

Olango's mother, Pamela Benge, said Thursday that her son was distraught at the time of the shooting due to the death of a close friend, disputing reports that he was mentally ill.

"He was not mental — he had a mental breakdown," she said, telling reporters he simply needed help at the time of the deadly confrontation with police.

"My son (was) a good, loving young man, only 38 years old," she said. "I wanted his future to be longer than that. I wanted him to enjoy his daughter."

The grieving mother said her family came to the United States 25 years ago to escape armed conflict in their homeland.

Alfred Olango's mother, Pamela Benge speaks during a news conference in El Cajon, Sept. 29, 2016.

"We have come from a war zone," she said. "We wanted protection. That's why we're here. ... There are millions of refugees that are here, just searching for a better place. ... I thought a lovely nice country like this would protect us. We just need protection, that's all."

On Wednesday, El Cajon Mayor Bill Wells said he was "completely fine" with peaceful dissent in response to the use of lethal police force but was concerned about the potential for violence.

"I see what's happening all over the country," Wells told reporters. "Of course I'm worried. ... I don't expect anything bad to happen, but I certainly don't want to be caught unaware."

Wells said he had seen the full footage.

"I saw a man who was distraught, a man who was acting in ways that looked like he was in great pain," Wells said. "And I saw him get gunned down and killed, and it broke my heart."

Gonsalves and McDaniel, each of whom has 21 years of law enforcement experience, were placed on administrative leave, as per department protocol. Officials promised a thorough and transparent investigation, but protesters demanded an investigation at the federal level.

The family’s attorney, Gilleon, said Gonsalves was demoted last year for making unwanted sexual advances toward a female subordinate.

"I think anywhere in the country, that's worthy of being terminated," Gilleon said of the accusations against Gonsalves, which surfaced in a lawsuit filed by the alleged victim.

"(Department officials) didn't do that. ... And the fact the that they rallied behind him back then just begs the question ... maybe that's why they're rallying behind him right now?" the attorney said.

Olango was born in Kampala, Uganda, one of nine children. His mother and siblings immigrated to New York as refugees in 1991, apparently because his father — who worked for the late Ugandan President Idi Amin — made threats of violence against them.

The family eventually moved to Southern California, and Olango attended San Diego High School for a time before dropping out, though he later earned a GED. According to his Facebook page, he attended San Diego Mesa College and worked at a Hooters restaurant.

In 2002, an immigration judge ordered Olango deported following his conviction for transporting and selling narcotics, according to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The next year, following repeated unsuccessful attempts by ICE to obtain a travel document for Olango from the Ugandan government, he was discharged from ICE custody.

His release was necessitated by a Supreme Court ruling that precludes the agency from holding foreign nationals with final orders of removal for more than six months if their deportation cannot occur within the "reasonably foreseeable future."

ICE then placed Olango under an order of supervision, directing him to report to the agency on a regular basis.

In 2009, he was returned to ICE custody after serving a prison term for a conviction on a firearms charge in Colorado. At that point, the federal agency renewed its efforts to obtain a travel document from the Ugandan government. Those efforts were futile once again, leading to another supervised release.

Olango reported in as required until February 2015, after which he failed to appear, according to ICE. The agency then lost contact with him, a spokeswoman said.

Photo caption:

Photo credit: Facebook

Alfred Olango is pictured with his friend, Bereket, whose funeral was held the day after Olango's fatal shooting.

KPBS staffers Erik Anderson, Kris Arciaga, Megan Burks, Jean Guerrero, Claire Trageser and David Wagner contributed to this report.


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