One Year On: Alfred Olango’s Sister Describes His Life Before He Was Fatally Shot By El Cajon Police
One year ago this week, it was Alfred Olango’s sister who called El Cajon police to say her brother was having a mental health crisis in the minutes before he was shot and killed by an officer.
The Ugandan-born Lucy Olango, who works as a medical assistant at a mental health facility, has since filed suit against the El Cajon Police Department alleging negligence.
She recently spoke to KPBS Investigative Reporter Amita Sharma.
Q: How would you describe your relationship with your brother?
A: We were very, very close. I remember when Alfred was born and mum came home with him. He had lots of hair. He was very beautiful, a very handsome boy. Alfred was a very loving man, a father to his kids, a brother to me, an uncle to my children. He spent countless time with my kids, barbecuing, going places, to the beaches, all of us sitting at mum’s house and just relaxing and listening to music and being a family. He was a great cook. He was hoping one day he could open a restaurant.
Q: How was Alfred’s life going in the weeks and the days before the shooting?
A: One of his best friends, who was disabled, whom he had known since high school shot himself and killed himself. It really affected him so much. I could see in him how devastated he was by the loss.
Q: Take me back to that day September 27, 2016, when your brother Alfred Olango was shot and killed by an El Cajon police officer. He had shown up at your place hours earlier. How was he behaving? What was his mental state?
A: He was telling me that he’s so scared. I’m like, “Why are you scared?” He’s like, “I think people are following me.” I’m like, “Which people are following you? There’s nobody here in my house.” I opened the door, I said, “Look, there’s nobody here.” And he said, “You opened the door and let people in the house here.” He was super scared. He was sweating profusely and it brought me concern. I work in mental health and I see a lot of different things.
Q: What did you think was happening to him?
A: He was going into crisis. He had a mental breakdown, complete mental breakdown.
Q: You called police at that time?
A: I did call police. I’m like, “Hey, my brother is not doing so well. I need somebody to come and help him.” So I waited. I waited, nobody came. I’m like, “What is going on?” So I got dressed in my scrubs because I was going to go to work. When I was getting dressed, he had walked out of the house and I didn’t know where he had gone. He didn’t say anything.
Q: He leaves your apartment. You drive to work. What did you see?
A: I see him walking, crossing the street. Not even bothering whether there was a car coming by. He was looking as if somebody is following him and I called him, “Alfred, Alfred. Stop. Don’t walk like that.” I’m following him begging him and pleading with him, “Come on, let’s go home.”
Q: You called El Cajon Police again. They arrive. You told an officer your brother was unarmed. What were you expecting officers to do to diffuse the situation?
A: To talk to him. To use crisis communication to talk to him. They should have sent somebody who is trained in dealing with diffusing crises and if that officer did not even pull a gun and asked Alfred, `Hey, I understand you’re going through a tough time. Is there something I can do to help you?’ But he gets out a gun and starts pointing it at him and says, “Put your hands up! Put our hands up!”
Q: But what happened?
A: He (Olango) had an e-cigarette lighter thing in his pocket. He (the officer) gets out with the gun and points it at him, “Put your hands up! Put your hands up.” So there was an African-American lady already at the site. And when I came, then she’s like, “Please, do you know this man?” I’m like, “This is my brother. I called them to help.” She’s like, “Please tell your brother to raise his hands. They’re gonna to kill him. They will kill him now. They’re gonna kill him.”
Q: What do you remember from those moments?
A: I was pleading with him, “Please just raise your hands up.” I felt like they shouldn’t even point at him with a gun. And I told them he wasn’t even armed. He was somebody who needed help, not to be killed. He was such a kind person. He wouldn’t hurt anything, not even a fly.
Q: Again, you had told a dispatcher and police when they arrived on the scene that your brother was unarmed. Former District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis concluded the police shooting of Alfred Olango was justified. In fact, Dumanis said the way your brother took an object out of his pocket and raised his hands was intentionally done to make the officer feel like he was about to be shot. How does that conclusion compare to what you saw?
A: If he wanted to die, he could have killed himself. He wanted to live. He was crying for help.
Q: Dumanis also said Olango had cocaine and alcohol in his system at the time of the shooting. Do you think that influenced his behavior?
A: It probably could have but he was going through things. He had just lost his best friend, like a day or two before.
Q: As you know, there’s been great debate, great tension in this country over police shootings of African-Americans. Do you consider your brother’s shooting to be a part of that discussion?
A: Yes. What about if it was a white man standing there? Would they have reacted differently? Probably. Mental crises do not only happen to certain groups of people. I see this as if this had happened in Del Mar or La Jolla, it would have been different. I was unable to de-escalate the problem because I was too close to him. What are we taught in school? When something happens, what do you do? Call 911. I don’t think I will ever call 911 again.
There have been a lot of shootings what are they doing about it. They need to learn how to deal with human beings. Officers are also human beings, I know they go through a lot.
Q: How do you view police now?
A: Actually, I don’t have hate on any police. I do respect their occupation. I do have three police officers as friends. I don’t view them any differently.
Q: It has been one year since your brother’s death, how are you coping?
A: It has been a journey. I’ve been through valleys, mountains and then valleys. Knowing that he’s not going to be coming, being cheerful and joyful like, “Hey sis, I’m here. What’s going on? I miss you. I love you.’ He was such a family man that was going through some tough times. He (the officer) took my joy, my sunshine, my smile, my brother my friend.
Q: How has this experience changed you?
A: I see each day as a blessing. My family is my strength and friends. We have so many people that we didn’t even know that have been supporting the family from day one.