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Olango Family Asks For Release Of Video, Peaceful Protests

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

UPDATE: 6:20 a.m., Sept. 30, 2016

Thursday's third night of protests were more violent and destructive than gatherings on the previous two nights.

Between 50 and 75 people marched through streets and blocked intersections until police had to use pepper-spray balls to break them up.

Some got into fights with drivers who were angry over blocked traffic, at times breaking car windows and in one case pushing a man off his motorcycle, police said. Some threw bottles at police.

Two men, ages 19 and 28, were arrested for failing to end an unlawful assembly, police said.

Original story

Relatives and supporters of a Ugandan refugee fatally shot by a police officer during a confrontation at an El Cajon strip mall decried the killing Thursday as unwarranted and racially motivated while vowing to fight for justice and calling on like-minded people to protest the death peacefully.

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

Harris also demanded the release of the full video of the shooting, adding that the District Attorney's decision to release only a still picture biases the public against Olango.

"If you can put a photo out, you need to release the whole tape – because the tape shows the whole picture. We will correct the script," he said.

Olango, 38, was mortally wounded during a confrontation with police outside a strip mall restaurant near the intersection of Interstate 8 and state Route 67 Tuesday afternoon. Demonstrators contend that the officer who shot him was unduly quick to open fire because Olango was black.

One witness told reporters Olango — who was unarmed — had his hands raised when shots rang out, and another indicated he may have suffered a seizure. However, police said Olango was uncooperative, had repeatedly refused to remove his hand from his pocket, assumed "what appeared to be a shooting stance," and pointed an object that turned out to be an electronic smoking device at one of the officers.

The events that led to the fatal confrontation began when officers were dispatched to investigate a report of a pedestrian behaving erratically and walking in traffic in a commercial district a few blocks north of El Cajon Valley High School.

Patrol personnel contacted the man, later identified as Olango, in a parking lot in the 700 block of Broadway, police Capt. Frank LaHaye said.

Moments later, one of the officers shot Olango with an electric stun gun, and the other opened fire with his service gun. Witnesses reported hearing about five gunshots.

During this afternoon's briefing, Olango's mother, Pamela Benge, told news crews her son was distraught at the time of the shooting due to the death of a close friend, Bereket Demsse — disputing reports that he was mentally unstable.

"He was not mental — he had a mental breakdown," she said. "He couldn't handle it, he was just running around. He needed someone to calm him down and then take care of the situation ... not to come and just finish his life."

Benge tearfully praised Olango as a decent son and father who simply needed help and kindness 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 noted that her family had come to the U.S. 25 years ago to escape armed conflict in their homeland.

"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. My son ... he (didn't) kill anybody."

The fatal shooting prompted angry protests almost immediately. Shouting, chanting crowds came together that afternoon and continued into the night at the spot where the deadly encounter played out in a commercial district a few blocks north of El Cajon Valley High School.

On Wednesday, demonstrations resumed outside El Cajon police headquarters. In the early afternoon, the boisterous throng marched through the city, at times blocking streets and freeway ramps while facing off with rows of officers in riot gear. The disruptions prompted a temporary closure of nearby Parkway Plaza mall.

During a news conference the day after the shooting, El Cajon Mayor Bill Wells said he was "completely fine" with peaceful protests but concerned about the potential for the protests to turn destructive.

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

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

A still photo lifted from witness video that showed a crouching man holding something at face level as two officers apparently trained weapons on him was released hours after the shooting. Protesters criticized police for releasing one photo, instead of the entire video.

Wells said he had seen the full video and was deeply affected by it but was holding off on any judgments.

"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."

The officers, who had more than 20 years of law enforcement experience, were placed on administrative leave, per protocol. Police have promised a thorough and transparent multi-agency investigation. Protesters called for a federal investigation.

Critics have questioned why personnel with special training to deal with the mentally ill were not dispatched after police received a report that Olango was behaving erratically and walking in traffic. A distraught woman who identified herself as Olango's sister could be heard just after he was shot asking why officers shot her brother after she called for help and told police he was troubled.

Police later said a psychiatric emergency-response team clinician was on another call at the time.

Authorities disputed claims that bystanders' cellphones were taken at the scene. Only one was voluntarily turned over.

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

According to friends, Olango was born in Kampala, Uganda, as one of nine children. His mother and siblings emigrated 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 following year, after repeated efforts by ICE to obtain a travel document from the Ugandan government to carry out Olango's deportation proved unsuccessful, Olango was discharged from ICE custody. His release was mandated 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 actual 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. Once again the attempts were futile, leading to Olango's re-release from ICE custody on an order of supervision.

Until February 2015, Olango reported in to the agency as required. However, he failed to appear for an in-person appointment that month and had not been encountered by the agency since, according to ICE.

Mother of shooting victim Alfred Olango speaks out
Mostly Peaceful Protests In El Cajon After Police Shoot Unarmed Man
Mostly Peaceful Protests In El Cajon After Police Shoot Unarmed Man GUESTS: Erik AndersonKPBS environment reporter David Wagner, KPBS science and technology reporter

I'm Allison St. John. Today is Thursday, September 29. To sum up where we are in the shooting of Alfred Olango friends and relatives say Olango who was born in Uganda was experiencing a mental crisis. A close friend recently died by suicide. The pollution from -- was on another call. El Cajon's police cheif Jeff Davis said the video of the shooting will not be released until the investigation is complete. The mayor of El Cajon has seen it and will ask about that later. The police department release a image of video that appeared to show Olango pointing an object moments before being shot. Last night please confirm the object was not a gun but a electronic cigarette. Today any further news the Associated Press is reporting that US authorities have tried to deport Olango but his native Uganda refuse to take a. This morning there were more rallies at the site where he was shot. That gives us a sense that feelings are still running high in El Cajon. We have reported David Wagner on the line with us. Give us a sense of who was there. Right now the mood is subdue at the site where Alfred Olango was shot. There has been a dozen people for the last hour here. There are candles set up at the site, and flowers with a lot of signs reading things like black lives matter. One sign says release the video. When I talked with people that was the theme that came up. They took issue with the fact that El Cajon police have not shown the full encounter. One person I spoke with the had something to say. Let's listen here. We do not want to hear anything about another steel shot. I don't want to see that. That's not enough. People that I spoke with also told me that they came out because this is one incident to a string of similar incidents that the whole country has been paying attention to. I asked them if this was a surprise. One man told me he was not surprised. I spoke with another man and said he lived in El Cajon for 17 years. I have three young boys. I'm a parent concerned about our children. We should not be in this country being concerned to raise our children. Those are a few people at the rally. Would you describe it as subdued -- what is the mood there? It is subdued. There has been a small but steady stream of people showing up. It is people sitting in the shade. It's a relaxed mood right now. I asked one protester how long they thought this would go on for. We were not sure. It is a small crowd. People are filtering in and out for the past hour. How long is a group planning to be there? Again, they could not give me an estimate on how long this will go on for. Based on what I have seen for the past hour people are coming in. Thank you David for reporting. Thank you. A quick clarification that the friend we heard earlier was from last nights for protest and not this morning. It might have a different feel. This morning there was a meeting of faith leaders around San Diego. Eric was there. Thank you for joining us. Who was there? It was a gathering of faith leaders from the El Cajon and surrounding areas. They were gathering to talk about their response to the situation. One interesting comment that I heard during their discussion was that they were concerned that a few times yesterday the anger that they know is out there had a chance to spell into something that could become serious. It did not and they were thankful for that. They said that line was close to being crossed. That's something that concerns them. It's something they need to pay attention to to move forward and tried not to channel that anger. Did they have any strategies? That's what they will work out today. They are meeting for the rest of the day to delineate exactly what their angle will be. It's interesting Kevin Malone who was there said he made a point that was clear and well received. They are not angry at the police. They recognize their community needs a strong police department and they support the fact that the police are visible but what they want are things like transparency. They want to understand what happened. They want better training for the police officers and better hiring. There are things they see could be improved. They stressed very clearly that police were important in their community. Did you get the sense they are working together and they will be focusing on other parts of San Diego other than just El Cajon? The focus for them is El Cajon. They referred to what's been going on for the last few days as this white-hot anger. If this anger that is difficult to channel and difficult to control but it needs to come out. You cannot let it fester under the surface. They said some of the things that people are feeling that they are letting out now are the result of a long period of time of living in an environment where they do not feel they are getting the same shakes as other people in their community where minority members feel like they are at a struggle point with police. That's something they will gauge whether or not that white hot anger will continue to increase or whether it will subside over the next few days. This moment gives an opportunity to bring people together. We will see how that works out. Thank you Eric Anderson. Bill Wells that mayor of El Cajon is in a position to be familiar with the challenges of integrating a community that includes refugees and immigrants from many parts of the world. People who are dealing with trial well beyond what the average American citizen has been through. Mayor Wells has seen the video the police has not released of Alfred Olango. Mayor Wells thank you for joining us. Thank you and they give for having me on. I want to get your reaction on how the El Cajon police handled it. I think the El Cajon police handled it very well. We have been blessed in a strange way to have been watching what's been happening nationally over the past six months. We have seen this situation played in other cities. I think every elected official in America has sat and watched TV and said I would have done this differently. We had a chance to do it in a way that promoted less violence, less destruction of property and at the same time we want to make sure the protesters were not push down and put in a position where they felt like they had no voice. How big is a refugee community in El Cajon. Do you think the police is conscious and trained to deal with their culture? We are the second largest city in America for refugees. That's been happening over the past decade. Our police have been having to step up their game incensed of working with people that had little understanding of the American system of justice and what services are being offered. Our police have grown up in the environment of understanding that they have to be sensitive to people's needs and that their understanding of the world is not the same as the people that are living in the city. In this situation the police arrived rather than the emergency response team. Do you have concerns there may not be enough resources for emergency response and the police are having to respond to situations where they are not the appropriate response? Seeing that there's not enough resources for mental health in San Diego is one of the largest understatements you can imagine. There have been an explosion of need for mental health services. Not to San Diego but every city in America. It's a phenomenon that most of us do not understand. My background is in mental health. I spent my entire life working in mental health. Nobody can tell right now why so much problem is happening with psychiatric problems out on the streets. Having said that, we have done our best to adjust to the situation by bringing in psychiatric emergency officers. These are not officers. They are clinicians that work with the officers. They do trainings, they teach the officers how to work with these patients. When possible they go to the scene and they get involved. There are limited resources. We have one officer in our area and that person was not available. Is that enough? Probably not. You did see the video. I heard you say if that was your send you would have been devastated. When I saw the video it was clear to me what happened. There was little ambiguity. There's a part of me that would love to have released the video that afternoon. If we do not live in a society where we have a rule of law and we have a process in place to make sure everyone's rights are protected, I would have done that. We have clip from the families attorney who has a perspective on the video. It is completely unfair for them to be using a sale image that is one-sided and gives them the talking point of compliance. You can't point something at an officer and expect to live. All this talking points are created by that single still image. How would you react to people who say that it's not fair to have one image. My question would be what would be the alternative. The alternative would be to release nothing. If we release nothing we have narratives out there that are saying he had his hands up and begging for mercy. He was not psychotic or aggressive. The police shot him for no reason. I think that is a recipe for disaster. If you let that kind of thing brew and it's not dealt with to some degree, we will see situations that we saw in Ferguson and in Charlotte and Dallas. All the cities in San Diego signed an agreement recently that says if we had videotape of a officer involved shooting that videotape does not become the purview of the city that is involved. It is sent to a neutral party which in this case is that district attorneys office. The district attorney then decides when and how and if that video is released. I think it's a good policy. You think a single frame to be released is policy? No. I got on the phone with the district attorney and talked about the options. It was clear that we had to do something to mitigate the violence and to show people there was something happening. The video will come out. Everyone will get a chance to see it. I know everyone wants to see today. I get that it does not bother me that people are frustrated by. We have to allow the process to go through. That does not mean I'm not going to put a lot of pressure -- Will you push for the release -- Of course. Our district attorney has been doing this for a long time. She is responsive. We're on the phone on a regular basis. I believe she is as anxious to release the video as we are. That's as long as everyone's rights are protected and the investigation is not impeded. Family and other community groups are pushing for an independent investigation. They want to take it out of the hands of the local district attorney. They want to put it into the department of justice. Where do you stand on that? I believe the FBI represents the federal level pretty well. Something comes up and the FBI feels they are unqualified to handle they would make a recommendation that we move it to the level of the Department of Justice. If the Department of Justice intervened and say we feel this is a civil rights case and we want to get involved then we would talk about it. I cannot imagine us say no to that. I want to be really clear. There is in no way are we circling the wagons or being defensive or try to cover this up. My goal is truth. I want everyone to have the truth. Whatever that truth is. In a week or two weeks when the results come back, I'm willing to talk about them whether it shows the city and the police were exonerated or the city and the police were at guilt. Either way the people that live in the city deserve truth. As it stands the DA will be investigating with the help of the FBI, right? That is true. Thank you very much Mayor Wells of El Cajon. Thank you.

Mostly Peaceful Protests In El Cajon After Police Shoot Unarmed Man
Protesters filled the streets of El Cajon a day after an unarmed man was shot and killed by police officers. They held signs and chanted “no justice, no peace,” “hands up, don’t shoot” and “black lives matter.”
Mostly Peaceful Protests In El Cajon After Police Shoot Unarmed Man
Protesters filled the streets of El Cajon a day after an unarmed man was shot and killed by police officers. They held signs and chanted “no justice, no peace,” “hands up, don’t shoot” and “black lives matter.”