Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations
KPBS Midday Edition

Olango Family Says Claim Filed To Urge Police Reform

The daughter of Alfred Olango gets tearful while listening to her grandmother, Pamela Benge speak of her son, Alfred Olango, at a press conference in San Diego, Sept. 29, 2016.
Associated Press
The daughter of Alfred Olango gets tearful while listening to her grandmother, Pamela Benge speak of her son, Alfred Olango, at a press conference in San Diego, Sept. 29, 2016.

Alfred Olango's Family Plans To Sue El Cajon
Alfred Olango's Family Plans To Sue El Cajon GUEST: Brian Dunn, attorney, The Cochran Firm

At top story, the widow of Alfred Alongo is filing a claim against the city of El Cajon. Lawyers will hold a press conference this afternoon to announce litigation. He was shot to death in September by an El Cajon police officer. Joining me is attorney, Brian Dunn, a partner with the Cochran firm representing the widow and two daughters. Welcome to the program. Thank you very much for having me. What a client seeking in this claim, Brian? More than anything else what we are seeking with this claim is a mechanism to ensure that this kind of thing does not happen again. The most important thing not only to my client but all surviving family members of Mr. Olango is that technical steps are taken and training done to ensure that there will be a more tactically sound approach to dealing with individuals who may be suffering from a mental illness. One of the reasons why we are instituting litigation is because we don't want another family to go through with this family has gone through. Are there specific rules are ways that the El Cajon police work or get their training that you are hoping to change? The El Cajon Police Department is falling behind. In not having a specified protocol for dealing with individuals who may be suffering from a mental illness. Specifically there are certain tactical considerations officers should employ when approaching a situation like this. There should always be a coordinated response between contacting cover officers. Secondly, when dealing with a person that may be suffering from a mental illness, simple issues such as the manner in which communication is undertaken can make a dramatic difference in the outcome.We saw Mr. Olango -- the officer who turned out to be the shooting officer closed the distance and space on him and he did a lot of tactical maneuvers that caused Mr. Olango to experience a heightened level of anxiety that probably would not have happened had he employed the proper procedures. It's not just a matter of attempting to detain a person. What we saw was, in this case, he had his gun drawn from the moment he been communicating with Mr. Olango. When you are dealing with a person who may be suffering from a mental illness, they won't respond to the law enforcement presence the way a person that is not dealing with such an illness will respond. This is what cause the situation to quickly spiral out of control and create a problem for everyone involved. Olango's sister has filed a claim with the city of alcohol. AP reported his father plans to sue the city. By the lawyers representing the family members talking about the same lawsuit or are they planning separate actions? The reality is that will be separate actions but they will almost certainly be consolidated. Judges do not like to try the same things twice. There is a term we have in our profession called the same transaction and occurrence. When you have different lawsuits even if they are different case numbers, they will usually be consolidated into one single case to avoid the dissipation of judicial resources. Why isn't the family working together on this effort? I can only speak for my clients. I would be open to representing anyone who had a claim in this matter. In our system, every potential client is free to choose the lawyer that they seek to choose. Have to be negotiations with the city of El Cajon? Not yet. We are open to that but they have not appeared. Olango's sister Lucy who made the 911 call that her brother alleges in her claim that the officer who shot her brother was negligence. Is that an allegation you are making? Negligence involves many issues in this case. A lot of the tactical responses occurred prior to the shooting. When you look at the case through that lens, you see that a lot of what happened in officer involved shootings involves events and decisions made long before the shooting event actually takes place. Specifically the negligence component will be significant because it involves the tactical response to the situation. You had an individual who had not committed any kind of a serious crime. He was not armed with a weapon and was not reported to have been violence. It was a help call. When you have a situation with officers responding with guns drawn closing the distance on him and acting in a very provocative manner, a lot of these tactical decisions are below the standard of care in terms of what we would expect. There is no need to have guns drawn in the first place. I have been speaking with attorney Ryan Dunn representing Alfred Olango's widow . He will be announcing their filing a claim against the city of El Cajon. Thank you so much. Thank you.

An attorney for a widow who filed a claim Thursday against a San Diego suburb where her husband was killed by police says the family wants to send a message that police across the nation must do better when dealing with people in mental crisis.

Attorney Brian Dunn announced the filing of the claim against El Cajon at a news conference attended by Taina Rozier, the widow of Ugandan refugee Alfred Olango, and his 16-year-old daughter. The claim — a precursor to a lawsuit — was also filed on behalf of a 12-year-old daughter who lives out of state.

The claim does not specify a monetary amount.

"No person would ever want to experience even a fraction of what this family has gone through," Dunn said. "Tactically speaking, we are seeking reforms."

A police officer opened fire on Olango within a minute of arriving at the scene on Sept. 27. Olango's sister had described her brother as mentally unbalanced in multiple 911 calls.

The shooting prompted days of protests.

Video released by police shows the officer approached the 38-year-old man with his gun drawn, as Olango paced in a strip mall parking lot. Olango can be seen pulling something out of his pocket and taking a "shooting stance" — wrapping his hands around a cylinder and aiming it at the officer, who then fires his gun.

A second officer fired his Taser simultaneously. The object in Olango's hands turned out to be a 4-inch electronic cigarette device called a vape pen, authorities said.

The El Cajon Police Department, like many police departments, has specially trained officers to help defuse the sometimes-volatile situations that involve people in the throes of mental illness. El Cajon officials said none were available to go to the call involving Olango.

Family members said Olango was having a mental breakdown over the death of a close friend.

Attorney Daniel Gilleon filed a separate claim Oct. 20 against El Cajon on behalf of Olango's sister, Lucy Olango. She said police were negligent in handling her 911 calls. Gilleon said she is seeking treatment for the trauma of seeing her brother killed.

The claim says deadly force was used too quickly and without warning.

Another attorney, Rodney Diggs, said he plans to file a federal claim on behalf of Olango's father, Richard Olango Abuka, for his son's death.

El Cajon city officials declined to comment.

The attorneys said the family also wants an independent investigation of the incident and expressed doubt the San Diego County district attorney's office can be impartial in its probe.

The two officers have been placed on leave.

Olango's father also attended Thursday's news conference.

"The death of Alfred Olango is a turning point in America," he said. "It's a turning point in the justice system in America. It'll be a turning point in how the policing is done in America."