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Weeks Before Olango Shooting, El Cajon Said 'No' To More Police Oversight

A woman raises her fist in front of a line of police during a protest in El Cajon. Dozens of demonstrators protested the killing of a black man shot by an officer after authorities said the man pulled an object from a pocket, pointed it and assumed a "shooting stance." Sept. 28, 2016.
Associated Press
A woman raises her fist in front of a line of police during a protest in El Cajon. Dozens of demonstrators protested the killing of a black man shot by an officer after authorities said the man pulled an object from a pocket, pointed it and assumed a "shooting stance." Sept. 28, 2016.

Weeks Before Olango Shooting, El Cajon Said 'No' To More Police Oversight
A San Diego County Grand Jury report this year recommended the city of El Cajon establish a civilian board to oversee police conduct. The City Council strongly rejected that recommendation just seven weeks before a police officer fatally shot Alfred Olango, an unarmed black man.
Weeks Before Olango Shooting, El Cajon Said 'No' To More Police Oversight
Weeks Before Olango Shooting, El Cajon Said 'No' To More Police Oversight GUEST: Andrew Bowen, metro reporter, KPBS

El Cajon officials rejected the idea of a Citizens Police Review Board just weeks before the shooting of Alfred Olango. With both Cinderella and the Prince are featured in this weekend's arts and entertainment's section. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. It's Friday, October 21. Our top story on KPBS Midday Edition, the sister of Alfred Olango is taking the first step in a lawsuit . Lucy Olango called 911 to get help for her brother, she thought he was having a breakdown. She's filed a claim against the city saying the officer who shot and killed her brother was negligent. My client miss Olango has suffered horror and pain of having her brother die and having to watch him die. Think about the guilt and the regret that she feels from doing something that anyone of us would have done, which is called 911. Weeks before the shooting the El Cajon city Council rejected a citizens board to review complaints against the police. Joining us with more is KPBS Metro reporter, Andrew Bowen. Why did the County grand jury say El Cajon needed as civilian review board? They said without one the city risks losing the trust of the public. California law requires Police Department to have a formal complaint process that involves filling out a form and turning in a complaint. It may be sustained or it may lack evidence, there is no requirement that this process has any review outside the Police Department. The grand jury found that there is a perception that these complaints filed in the Police Department are pointless, there are no way to be sure if they make a difference and it's not a serious check on the police behavior. The El Cajon city Council rejected that request quite strongly. I can read from their response, the assumption is without bias disregards human nature, further the danger of such a board essentially acting as a political body rather than a public safety body is more likely than not. They are basically saying if they were to establish a citizens review board it would be political. It wouldn't help the issue of providing more confidence among citizens. It went on to say there was only one complaint in 2015 and this proves the professionalism of the Police Department. This is seven weeks before the shooting of Alfred Olango. His sister called 91 asking for help, she thought he was having a breakdown. The officer came and within minutes Alfred along the way shot and killed. It's hard to imagine the city Council using these words today. It amounts to an outright denial that there is serious mistrust of the police. Even after the shooting, El Cajon police chief Jeff Davis said there was no problem between his force in the community. We have protocols and follow state laws when it comes to use of force and reporting. We all are aware of the requirements. We are following them and based on the results of that, I feel we are doing a good job. There have been these ongoing protests in the wake of the shooting of Alfred Olango. Remind us. There have been protests in San Diego and El Cajon. More recently people have been gathering at the scene of the shooting. The Memorial for Alfred Olango sprung up and when the police dismantled it, just this last week, that lead to confrontations and arrests. There has also been a fair amount of behind-the-scenes organizing and dialogue happening. The group of young people spoke to El Cajon city Council asking for more dialogue and mediation between community members and police. Think it would be misleading to say the only people who care are the ones who are on the news and marching in the streets. There's a lot of dialogue and organizing going on. Is this in isolated incident or is this evidence that the El Cajon police do not have the trust of some of the community? The protest that I have been at, the consensus is the police are not protecting communities of colors, they are targeting them that don't. A narrative that we are seeing is playing out in San Diego County. I spoke with an activist, Estela De Los Rios, she spoke about the militarization of police and what she sees as an aggressive response to the protests. She said her nine-year-old is afraid of the police. If that antidote -- anecdote is representative, it doesn't represent trust. You said it would be hard for you to imagine the El Cajon city Council to use those same words, when they rejected the civilian review board. A couple of city Council seats are up for election, is at issue there? El Cajon is a small city. Council races don't get coverage or money. I did read a report in the East County magazine that reported on the candidates forum and some candidates say they want to see more police oversight. They would support the creation of one of these review boards. We will see what happens.

The El Cajon City Council strongly rejected a recommendation from the San Diego County Grand Jury to establish a civilian board to oversee police conduct, just seven weeks before a city police officer fatally shot an unarmed black man. Protests that began after the shooting are still going on in the city.

The grand jury report, released in May, stated that cities like El Cajon that don't have any public review of complaints against the police risk losing the trust of their citizens. It recommended the City Council "establish independent citizen commissions for oversight of police behavior."

The El Cajon City Council strongly rejected the idea in its response to the report on Aug. 9, saying it would provide no benefit to citizens and would likely be biased. The response read:

The assumption that members of such a board would be completely without bias simply disregards human nature. Further, the danger of such a board essentially acting as a political body, rather than an objective public safety body, is more likely than not. In those situations of bias or political agendas, such a board would have no positive affect on either improving police procedures or in furthering the confidence of the public.

The response went on to say the El Cajon Police Department had received only one complaint in all of 2015, and two complaints in 2014. The City Council concluded:

It is apparent ... that the extremely low number of complaints filed with the City is an indication that the El Cajon Police Department has an outstanding track record of appropriate professionalism and behavior in regard to the citizens and a citizen's oversight board would have literally nothing to do the vast majority of the time and would have no apparently positive effect on either the community or the Police Department.

The investigation into the Sept. 27 shooting of Alfred Olango is ongoing. Police say Olango, a 38-year-old man who immigrated from Uganda in 1991, held a metallic object in his hand and pointed it at an officer in a "shooting stance." The object was a vaping pen.

Olango's sister, Lucy Olango, filed a claim against the city on Thursday. It says she called 911 three times to ask for emergency medical help for her brother. The claim states that the responding police officer "knew (Olango) was having a mental crisis... knew that he was not investigating a crime and that (Olango) had not threatened anyone with harm."

The shooting sparked numerous protests. Many have accused El Cajon police of racism and said the police operate with no accountability. Some protests have led to confrontations — most recently last weekend when police dismantled a memorial to Olango that had become a gathering point for activists.

RELATED: San Diego Seeks To Strengthen Civilian Oversight Of Police

Estela De Los Rios, a longtime civil rights activist in El Cajon, said she disagreed that a public review process for complaints against the police would be inherently biased, and that other cities and jurisdictions have successful models.

"It's obvious on both sides that there's no understanding or mediation going on," she said. "There's evidently no communication, and when there is, it seems to be out of hand."

De Los Rios added she thought the exceptionally low number of complaints against police officers was misleading, and that frequent protests against the shooting of Alfred Olango were evidence the police did not have the trust and confidence of many residents.

El Cajon Mayor Bill Wells and his four colleagues on the City Council did not respond to multiple requests for comment. Police spokesman Rob Ransweiler said in a statement: "With the ongoing protests, our focus remains on the immediate protection of our citizens and their property."

El Cajon Grand Jury Response
The city of El Cajon responds to a county grand jury report recommending the creation of a civilian board to review complaints against police.
To view PDF files, download Acrobat Reader.

On the night of the shooting, Police Chief Jeff Davis was asked whether El Cajon should have a civilian review board on police behavior. He referred to state-mandated protocols for filing complaints.

"We follow state laws when it comes to use of force and reporting," David said. "And based on the results of that, I feel like we're doing a good job."

Two days later, he was asked a similar question at a news conference.

"We do an excellent job reaching out to our community, speaking to our community partners," Davis said. "There are systems in place to file a complaint, to investigate those complaints. These are state-mandated, and we follow them, as do all the other agencies in this county."

Two El Cajon City Council members, both Republicans, are seeking re-election in November: Star Bales, who was appointed in 2013, and Bob McClellan, who was elected in 2012. A third council member, Tony Ambrose, is not seeking re-election. There are 10 candidates for three open seats.

The subject of the police shooting arose at a candidates forum earlier this month, during which some candidates said the city should establish a police review board.

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