Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations
Public Safety

Roundtable: The Life And Death Of Alfred Olango

Protesters sit in front of a police line in El Cajon, a suburb of San Diego, Calif., on Wednesday night.
Bill Wechter AFP/Getty Images
Protesters sit in front of a police line in El Cajon, a suburb of San Diego, Calif., on Wednesday night.
Roundtable: The Life And Death Of Alfred Olango
Roundtable: The Life And Death Of Alfred Olango
HOST:Amita SharmaGUESTS:Eboné Monet, anchor, KPBS Evening Edition Andrew Bowen, metro reporter, KPBS News Jean Guerrero, border reporter, KPBS News Tony Perry, freelance reporter

And unarmed black man is shot and killed in El Cajon and protest errupting, angry community in the continue as the week goes on. There are questions about accountability and how police are trained to deal with mental health issues. The Roundtable starts now. Welcome to our discussion. Joining me at the Roundtable are Eboné Monet . Andrew Baldwin. And Jean Guerrero. And Tony Perry. Young black men were nine times more likely than other Americans to be killed by police in 2015 according to a study by the Guardian newspaper. This national statistic can home this week when police shot and killed Alfred Olango and unarmed black men from Uganda. Police said he was acting erratically moving in and out of traffic. The said he seemed a shooting stance and pointed an object at them which turned out to be a vape pipe. Last night they got violent and the day began with a prayer ritual. Will talk about will we know so far and discuss policing and race and training officers to deal with the mentally ill. We have learned that the video will be released at 2:00 today. Police say they got multiple calls that day on Tuesday about a man in the middle of the street and also say a woman identified herself as his sister said that he was not acting like himself and he was an armed. What happened next? The police arrive about 15 minutes after the first call was placed. They say they were responding to other calls and it took them that long to actually clear a team to respond to this call. Two officers arrived. The situation escalated quickly the police say that he was not following their commands. At one point they say he reached into his pocket and pulled out an object which turned out to be of the paint pen. He took with the cold a shooting stance and that's when the officers fired their weapons. One officer fired at Taser and one fired a gun and he was pronounced dead late Ron. What our witnesses saying? The police have conducted interviews will -- with witnesses. There have been some media interviews with witnesses are people who say that they saw it. A lot of different information. Some have confirmed that he had his hands in his pockets and others said that the hands a sense of -- -- he had his hands up. Some witnesses say he had assured on and some say he did not. The city of El Cajon and all law enforcement agencies have what is called a psychiatric emergency response team. They are basically uniformed officers. The clinician who was trained to deal with folks who are having a psychiatric emergency either mentally ill or having a nervous breakdown as the family says is the case on Tuesday. El Cajon police say that the clinician was on another call. The police are able to call for the County Sheriff or neighboring jurisdiction to ask if they can send some of their psychiatric clinicians to respond. They had to take into account a number of factors including how long it will take that % to get there, how urgent the situation is. I think is in the story a question of resources. To the police have enough of these clinicians on hand? Does there need to be a streamlined process when one city has their clinician occupied it needs apart from other agencies? There are a lot of questions about the type of response that was called in for this emergency. That is an issue that will not go away. Another issue is there was a big push to get this video released. Earlier in the week police did release a still, which seems to affirm the department's version of what happened, but they do not want to release the video until today. What was her explanation for doing that? This dates back to a policy that was announced a little less than two months ago. That policy basically states that videos of officer involved shootings, which is the technical term for this thing are considered evidence in the investigation of a potential crime. The authority to release those videos or keep them secret rests with the district attorney because the rationale is if the video released to early on and then be -- out in the media people thing that could bias the jury pool if someone was to be charged with a crime. The family attorney said yesterday that it appears that the Police Department was litigating this case in the public by releasing the still and not the video. Is to, that did not appear to work so far. It did not. The reason they released a still was because they were false narratives about him having his hands up. We are starting to see are killing social media and so to dispel that they put out this still to show that he is -- the shooting stance has something metallic his hand and an officer fires his weapon and another officer whose further way fires at Taser so they made different decisions. I do want to talk about that. One officer fires at Taser while another officer fires his gun. How unusual is it for those two actions to occur simultaneously? A bit unusual. It might be a sign of improvement on how to deal with these things. I remember one-time in San Diego and was for everyone to fire. So that was not the case here. I we saw but there had to be an escalation of force. Preferably, but not in not millisecond that a sworn police officer has to make a split decision on what to do to protect his life and the lives of other people. State law provides anonymous latitude for officers to make that decision and use deadly force. Let's talk about public reaction. The Black Lives Matter movement has made a difference in how the public reacts to the shootings. Here is any price. With these feelings and I'm feeling right now are not new. This is not a justice problem . This is past justice. This goes into morality of humanity. Everybody ought to be conflicted about this. Imagine if this was you. Imagine if this happened to every day of your life and you can count like Locke work that somebody is going to be disrespected today just because of the color of their skin. What have they been like and what are people saying? I think I'm speaking about the Black Lives Matter movement. I think this is really empowering people to speak out like the gentleman that the just mentioned this is not a new feeling. However, what I did say was this an immediate reaction from people instead of waiting until the following weekend to organize a visual and march down. Hours after the fatal shooting occurred and I'm hearing people saying different things like they are frustrated but a lot of fear and a lot of concern about could this have happened to them and if it did, what would be the consequences? Would anyone care and would there be any sort of repercussions for the officer if it was something that they perceived to be unjust? I think there are unique things in the situation here. There was of a spotlight video that came out that showed the immediate aftermath of the woman that called the 911 for brother. You can hear her saying to the place I called you for help and you shot and killed him. At that point it was unclear if he was dead. I think that there is a difference of perception between white communities and communities of color. This was a situation in which a black person call the police asking for help to control a situation of psychiatric emergency. The end result was that person being shot and killed. So there are a lot of details in between and a lot of nuance to the story but I think for a lot of people who are part of the Black Lives Matter movement, they see this as part of that entire narrative. We asked the police for help and what we get in response is force and we need to -- we should not even be calling the police for help in our communities because we could end up dead. The have found that that is a very common scenario that a lot of these calls begin from a family member and a family member is in distress psychologically good to come out and ends up in the shooting. That is very common. We find out that San Diego is facing the same problem. What I thought was interesting in this was that it did show that accumulated impact of Charlotte, Ferguson, Tulsa, New York City in two Waze. One the anger of people in El Cajon. We had any price and that very powerful discussion about on 50 Sixers old and I've been black all my life and I've always been a target. My son is a target but also on the other hand about the El Cajon PD the chief Jeff Davis reacted and he knew what was potential here and he put out a statement and a picture and held a press conference. So both that she said given what's happening nationally about it was important for us to make a statement that will look at this not just our eyes but lots of ice. We see that San Diego is part of the main and we are reaping the plus and minus of what is going on in this country right now. So there's a very familiar bring to the story both in the story itself and the reaction but each community -- I do want to talk to Anthony about with some of the leaders you spoke with said about the relation between the Police Department and the larger community. The leaders I spoke to were based in San Diego but I think it is reflected throughout the country and here in California as well. I think that the relationship between the Police Department and the black community has been very tense for quite some time. I think that is reflected across the country. I would argue probably since forever there's been that distress there. I think at times it's been better than not. I think that there's a difference when you speak to someone of a younger generation than if you speak to someone who was more of a aldrin the community. I believe there was a city that came out yesterday. It was asking the people being surveyed how often police treat people equally of different ethnicities. 75% of the respondents who were white said they believe that police treat people equally. To only 30 to 33% black Americans who respond to that whole. I think that is reflective here locally as well as nationally. If I can jump and really quick. At the press conference that the police chief held Tuesday night I asked if the city of Algona something similar to what exists in San Diego and the sheriff department of a citizens review board on police practices and these are people in the community so billions and they are basically task with repairing what the police are doing. Reviewing incidents of officer involved shootings. That does not exist in El Cajon and what the chief said his we are following state law and I think that we are doing a pretty good job. I asked what is the Police Department done and what is it continuing to do to improve relations with people of color and he wasn't really able to provide me a clear response. He said we have two pastors here for black churches and they are speaking to their constituents. It is unclear at this point how much El Cajon is undertaking to try to repair relations with people color. The mayor of El Cajon tried to speak a little bit. He held the press conferences we. I saw man who was distraught. Man who was acting a ways that looked like he was a great pain. I saw him get gunned down and killed in a broke my heart. If it was my son, I would be devastated. A lot of the family says that he was not mentally ill but having a medical -- mental emergency because he just lost a childhood friend and he was grief stricken. Tell me about Alfred Olango We do new -- we do know that he is a refugee. He came from Uganda. His mom says that he was a really loving father and love to cook and worked as the lead cook in several restaurants in multiple states. He also had some run-ins with the law. What can you tell me about that? You was convicted of transporting and selling drugs. He had a firearm conviction among other things. They tried to deport him a couple of times because of these criminal convictions. They felt to do so because they contacted the Uganda government for travel document. They do not get a response so they had to release him from detention. There's a very tragic irony in this. There is a added dimension along Uganda. He came here to escape the violence and his country and yet he loses his life here. Very tragic. Twice ordered -- supported and cannot do it because Uganda would not take a back and served prison time, drugs, firearms possession, picked up some drunk driving's, allegations also spouse abuse. He had a mixed history. Not a that pairs on what happened in that parking lot in that strip mall in El Cajon. If we are looking at who he is, that is who he was. Having trouble reconciling his mother's very passionate statement the other day at the press conference. He was mentally ill. His sister said both when she called 911 and also later to the media. There have been conflicting reports. One that she said he was not acted like himself or mentally ill. I don't know those were over be squared about all. I think as long as we are talking about him we could also mention that one of the officers that was identified his name is Richard and he was actually sued by a fellow police officer. He had reportedly sent her brood text messages propositioning her with sex with his wife. So he was demoted from Sergeant officer but was not fired. He was kept on the force. Exactly. That is a, getting factor here. Where paying attention to offer its past we need to pay attention to this police officer. So what kind of bearing does not have during an investigation of this officer for shooting? I don't know that in terms of the investigation that will end up with Bonnie making a decision on criminal charges. It might appear on the decision but the chief of police will have to make -- what about this officer? To I want them on the force any longer? He can then look at the full record. Let's talk about -- why is that and how high is the bar? Very high. It is a eight lane freeway the latitude given to police officers and when and how to react to a life-threatening situation. They perceive. We've had people killed by police officers when they're holding an ink pen or broom or something. The officers believed was a firearm and that is decision here that he also thought it was a firearm in a turns out to be a vape pen and that he had been ordered to drop your hands and put your hands down. The situation of not charging police officers did not again with Bonnie Dumanis. I can only think of won each for each of them when they lost both cases. I think of one other one. All cases that were brought by the prosecutors and every case there were found not guilty. Very difficult to bring a case and very difficult to get to a jury of 12 men and women and send them County to convict. You were there at the press conference yesterday. What did the family say? The family -- one thing that struck me and a mother insisted that her son was not mentally ill but she did mention that he was having a breakdown because of his friend. I spoke with a researcher whose been looking at mental health issues here and Sunday going he found that the symptoms that he was showing are not uncommon in this community because many of them have exposure to traumas. Whether it is directly because the experience more in their home countries or indirectly through a loved one who is suffering severe stress from the memories of it. Also he mentioned that there is police discrimination that they have a sort of fear of police because they live in these low income communities when they feel targeted for whatever reason. He says these things in combination with the grief of having just lost his friend would make perfect sense that he would have the emotional breakdown. They have been sent to a volatile situation of a man acting erratically and they do not know the man and there's no indication that the new his history. They get there very quickly and the shooting happens within a minute. Also very common when they studied hundreds of these cases just -- the district attorney found 45% had been with the call immediately upon the officer. Very quickly what kind of training to officers get when dealing with the mentally ill. You can argue that they need to just escalate -- de-escalate. Police officers do not have the right when they see a dangerous person. It is a mixed bag. You can argue that they should do more. I think this is a thing that they will have to decide. Are we doing enough? Should we use this as a learning lesson. One thing that they did say was that he was concerned that it took an hour for the two officers to get there. They have over one-hitter cops for city of 104 thousand -- one Hunter for thousand. We do have a clip from the mother's press conference after we hear that I want you to comment on what she said, ebony. I have been seeing -- I pray that things should be different. There is no answer. It keeps going. Now I did not know that the next time that it will be me. It is very moving. Very emotional. I think that this a fair from a lot of mothers of their concern for the children. You speak to police arriving at the scene and they have to make that split-second decision. UCC on the news and you see someone was accused of domestic terrorism being taken into custody injured but on a gurney and a life. A lot of mothers are asking how can you take down this person who has fired at police that you cannot pick might -- take my son into custody because you are not valuing his life. Becomes a question of do not value his life for some reason? That is the case that I'm hearing over and over again. They don't feel like they are valued and the filling their children are in danger and it'll have a way to protect their children because as we discussed here, oftentimes police are not prosecuted for the shootings. They're usually investigated internally and deep justifiable even if there is been video that is been handled by people in the public as being unjustifiable and so they feel like there is no recourse or support for them. A lot of the mothers feel helpless. Some members are calling for federal investigation for that reason. Nor has said she's watching the situation closely. If there is a federal civil rights violation, the Justice Department will look at that. What would constitute a civil rights violation in a case like this. First of all they said that she and the FBI will be briefed on Monday by the El Cajon police on their investigation. At some point our report will come to her and they will have to decide. I think given the history it is very little chance that charges will a rough. On what decision they will make that is a whole another issue but we do not know enough about it to discuss it. I think -- I cannot remember a time when a federal prosecutor has stepped in and in some new County in said that this is so outrageous even though it has been dealt with we will do will do a second time. That is happen elsewhere. I have not seen it happen here. I would be surprised if it happen here. Given what we know and really know little been that is a very dramatic picture. I would be very surprised. It would have to be very [ Indiscernible ] comments made by the cops. We do not know enough about the history to make a decision like that. Very surprised if they made that decision. We have to close it there. That wraps up another week of stories at the KPBS Roundtable. Thank you to Eboné Monet, Andrew, Jean Guerrero, and Tony Perry for joining me. All of the stories are available on our website KPBS.org. Thank you for joining me today on the roundtable.

Unarmed black man shot and killed

Some facts are known:

El Cajon police shot and killed an unarmed black man Tuesday afternoon.

The victim, Alfred Olango, was erratically walking in traffic. His sister called the police. She said she told police he was mentally ill.

Nearly an hour later, a police patrol unit arrived. Two officers approached Olango, who pointed something at them and assumed a "shooting stance." One officer tased him, the other shot him. Olango later died at a hospital.

Later Tuesday, a crowd of about 200 protesters gathered and rumors circulated that Olango had his hands up when he was shot and that the El Cajon police had confiscated bystanders’ cell phones. The rumors were found to be untrue.

El Cajon police on Wednesday released a still photo from a bystander’s cell phone, which showed a man — Olango — facing two officers pointing something at them, which was later determined to be a vape pen. Olango had no weapon.

Protests continued Wednesday, mostly peacefully. But Thursday evening protests turned violent. Police responded with pepper balls and flash-bang grenades to disperse a crowd throwing glass bottles and breaking car windows at Broadway and Mollison Avenue in El Cajon.

Friday began with a prayer vigil

Some questions remain:

Will the video of the shooting be released? Will the District Attorney prevent it from being released?

Why was a police patrol unit, rather than a Psychiatric Emergency Response Team (PERT), sent to the scene?

How much training in dealing with someone suffering mental distress or a breakdown do El Cajon police receive?

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.

Are black people with mental or substance abuse problems treated more harshly than are white people by El Cajon police, as some have alleged?

What will be the consequences of eroding mutual trust between police and the community?

KPBS News: El Cajon Police Shoot And Kill Unarmed Black Man

KPBS News: El Cajon Shooting An Early Test Of Video Release Policy

Associated Press: Police Took Over 1 Hour To Respond, About 1 Minute To Shoot

Washington Post: Unarmed black man killed by police near San Diego had twice been ordered deported

Explore all national, state and local returns now.