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DA Clears Law Enforcement In Five Shootings, Including El Cajon Officer Who Killed Olango

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.
DA Clears Law Enforcement In Five Shootings, Including El Cajon Officer Who Killed Olango
DA Clears Law Enforcement In Five Shootings, Including El Cajon Officer Who Killed Olango GUEST: Megan Burks, reporter, KPBS

The police shooting that brought protesters to the streets of El Cajon last year will not be prosecuted by the San Diego District Attorney's Office. District Attorney held a news conference yesterday to outline why she found the shooting of Alfred Olango justified as well as four other officer involved fatal shootings in San Diego. I am joined by reporter Megan Burks who covered the story. Welcome. Remind us about the circumstances of the Alfred Olango shooting. El Cajon police were called by his sister because of some strange behavior he exhibited. That is right Olango's sister called police and that her brother was having a mental breakdown. He was sort of walking in and out of traffic and she wanted an officer to come taken to a mental health facility. Over 911 she had said that he was unarmed and he was having a mental breakdown. When police arrived on the scene? It took about 50 minutes to an hour for police to arrive on the scene and within about a minute officer Richard Gonsalves is walking up to Olango and Olango has his hand in his pocket and Gonzalez says over and over again take your hand out of your pocket Olango does not and so can's office fires his gun and write about the same time another officer shoots Olango with a Taser. There were a number of videos released of this incident or any of them played yesterday? There were videos played if they were available in terms of the Olango case we saw the same video that we saw back in September. Surveillance footage and a cell phone video the differences that the cell phone video was zoomed in and slowed down so we had a clear picture of what happened the moments before Gonzales fired his gun. In September we had seen a still shot from a similar angle zoomed in and the argument then was that could have grabbed any frame that communicated the message they wanted to come indicate -- communicate. Yesterday we saw full sequence zoomed in and slow down. Can you describe what we saw? They narrated the video as it was plane and when you look at it from in this way this version of the video it appears that the shooting stance is deliberate and she also points out that officer Gonzalves docs. To her that says that he feared for his life and he thought that a longer was holding the gun. She detailed what witnesses had told her there were two witnesses that she spoke to during the investigation and both said that they thought the large vapor pen that had pulled out of his pocket was a gun. Both of them said that they felt the officer was in the right. Obviously everybody agrees that Alfred Olango was unarmed and what he held in his hand was a vaping at -- device that did not pose a threat to the officers. What is the criteria that makes shooting justified in the eyes of the DA office? What they said yesterday as her role in this case was very specific. She had to decide whether or not they had the legal right to shoot. In that case she has just looking at very specific criteria. Did he reasonably believes his life was in danger and others lives were in danger. She said that for people who want a discussion about how policing ought to be this is an answer that is going to please them. The circumstances surrounding Alfred Olango's death are tragic. I don't take any sides but the side of justice. Taken that position often never pleases everyone. Of the two officers on the scene you told us one of them had a Taser. Was there any explanation why it was not the Taser that was used in the situation. They mentioned that it is common practice if two officers respond to a scene if one is using nonlethal force the backup officer will be at the ready with lethal force in case that does not work. She said that is neither here nor there. Her job here was to determine whether or not Gonzalves feared for his life. What has been the reaction of the family to the decision. They are unhappy. We heard from their attorney yesterday and he said that questions remain why was the officers gun drawn so quickly, why was somebody who was better equipped to deal with the mentally else -- will not called to the scene. There following through with a civil suit claim with for wrongful death but the El Cajon Police Department. What about the other four please shootings that the took about yesterday were any of them as controversial? And all of those cases the suspect or person being pursued by police was clearly armed and using that weapon. Has the district attorney ever found a police shooting to be not justified? Only once in her tenure. The have been more than 150 police shootings during her tenure. The only case that she found was not justified was the case back in 2009 where an off-duty San Diego police officer was accused of shooting a woman and her son in a road rage incident in Oceanside. She found that the officer in that case was criminally liable. Of course that was not court of is sort of what we think of as officer involved shootings what is happening on the job in response to a call. Ultimately that officer was acquitted. I have been speaking with reporter Megan Burks. You so much. -- Thank you so much.

The San Diego County District Attorney on Tuesday announced law enforcement agents were justified in five separate officer-involved shootings, including the September 2016 death of Alfred Olango that set off days of protests in El Cajon.

DA Clears Law Enforcement In Five Shootings, Including El Cajon Officer Who Killed Olango
The San Diego County District Attorney announced Tuesday police officers were justified in five separate fatal shootings, including the September 2016 death of Alfred Olango that sparked protests in El Cajon.

District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis said Olango's death was tragic but El Cajon Officer Richard Gonsalves responded legally when he shot and killed the unarmed man after police say Olango pulled a cylindrical object from his pocket and assumed a "shooting stance." At the same time, another officer fired a Taser. The object turned out to be a vaping device.

A crowd of several hundred demonstrators protesting the death of Alfred Olango march peacefully down Main Street in El Cajon, Oct. 1, 2016.
Kris Arciaga
A crowd of several hundred demonstrators protesting the death of Alfred Olango march peacefully down Main Street in El Cajon, Oct. 1, 2016.

Dumanis said the Olango family, who has filed claims against El Cajon, was notified about the news conference in advance but was not told of her office's decision.

"I don't take any sides," Dumanis said. "I take the side of justice and that often never pleases everyone."

Olango, a 38-year-old man from Uganda, was killed in the Sept. 27 encounter after his sister called 911 to report her brother was acting unstable.

At the news conference, Dumanis said video of the incident shows the firing officer ducked down when Olango raised his arms while removing the vaping device from his pockets, leading her to conclude the officer believed Olango was drawing a gun.

San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis prepares to announce her office's ruling on five officer-involved shootings, Jan. 10, 2017.
Nicholas McVicker
San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis prepares to announce her office's ruling on five officer-involved shootings, Jan. 10, 2017.

The fourth-term district attorney also pointed to statements by eyewitnesses, both of whom believed Olango was pulling out a firearm, she said.

"The cop was in the right. He wouldn't take out his hand," one bystander said, according to Dumanis.

"The cop had every right; shoot or be killed," said another witness, Dumanis added.

An inewsource analysis published last January found the district attorney's office reviewed more than 150 officer-involved shootings over 11 years.

Dumanis said her office has brought criminal charges only once: against an off-duty San Diego cop who fired at a woman and her son in a 2008 road rage incident. The officer was found not guilty.

On Tuesday, Dumanis also cleared the officer who shot and killed Juan Fernandez after he shot four people, taking one of them hostage in City Heights last year. Additionally, the district attorney ruled the shootings of David Moya, Sergio Weick and Trenton Lohman were justified.

A pie chart breaks down the racial makeup of people who were shot by San Diego County law enforcement officers from 2013 to 2016, Jan. 10, 2016. According to the graphic, of those fired upon by police, 44 percent were white, 43 percent were Hispanic, 8 percent were black, 5 percent were Asian and 3 percent were non-white/other.
Megan Burks
A pie chart breaks down the racial makeup of people who were shot by San Diego County law enforcement officers from 2013 to 2016, Jan. 10, 2016. According to the graphic, of those fired upon by police, 44 percent were white, 43 percent were Hispanic, 8 percent were black, 5 percent were Asian and 3 percent were non-white/other.