UPDATED STATEMENT FROM THE ACLU OF SAN DIEGO & IMPERIAL COUNTIES ON THE SHOOTING OF ALFRED OLANGO BY AN EL CAJON POLICE OFFICER ON SEPTEMBER 27, 2016
SAN DIEGO, CA – On Tuesday, September 27, an El Cajon police officer fatally shot Alfred Olango, an unarmed black man, after his sister asked the police to help him because of behavior connected to his mental illness. Many of the details of the actual shooting and what preceded it are still being assessed. The ACLU is paying close attention and our thoughts are with the Olango family during this difficult time.
POLICE ACCOUNTABILITY AND TRANSPARENCY
We reiterate our earlier call for the El Cajon Police Department (ECPD) and the San Diego District Attorney to provide the public with answers expeditiously; and to be accountable and transparent in all aspects of their handling of the incident, so as to reassure the public of their objectivity and to restore trust.
Consistent with our position on transparency, we call on the ECPD to release the entire video recording of events leading up to the incident. This will help to mitigate public bias resulting from their selective release of a single still image that suggests Mr. Olango, the victim, was an imminent threat to the officer who shot and killed him. In releasing only the single frame without context, the ECPD appears more interested in defending one of their own than providing the public with objective information. The public has the right to view the full video, not just the ECPD spin.
Our national data shows that between one-third and one-half of all officer-involved shootings involve a disabled person. We also know that mental illness and intellectual disability can be overlooked factors in police shootings. The El Cajon Police Department was aware of and acknowledged Mr. Olango’s mental illness before arriving on the scene. Regrettably, the Psychiatric Emergency Response Team (PERT) was responding to another call and unavailable to accompany the police in their encounter with Mr. Olango. PERT, which pairs law enforcement officers with licensed mental health professionals to respond to emergency calls involving mental health crises, works county-wide to de-escalate negative police interactions with people in crisis. We urge strong, continued investment in PERT and other mental health services that work to save public and police lives.
The police culture of compliance can be fatal to people who, because of mental illness or intellectual disability, do not immediately understand and comply with police orders. Absent an immediate threat that cannot be contained, using lethal force against a person who is noncompliant because of mental illness or disability is a violation of that person’s civil rights.
THE PUBLIC’S RIGHTS
The public has the right to peacefully assemble, to seek solace in one another, to quality news and information, to question police policy and practice, and to protest. We urge the news media to refrain from criminalizing the victim when reporting on Mr. Olango’s background – which was neither known by officers at the scene nor a factor in his death. We urge law enforcement to exercise compassion and restraint in protecting people’s constitutional rights, and not to overreact to peaceful public protest with unnecessary, militarized policing.
The San Diego ACLU is seeking eyewitnesses who may have had their cell phones confiscated by police. The ECPD issued a statement saying they had not confiscated cell phones; but some media reports say otherwise. The public should understand that, absent a warrant, individuals have the right to retain their own property. One can cooperate with police requests for video by sending digital information by text or email. When confiscating a witness’ cell phone, even with consent, the police is depriving that witness his or her right to share the video, and depriving the public of the opportunity to view it.
OVER-POLICING IN COMMUNITIES OF COLOR
The San Diego ACLU is monitoring issues of over-policing in communities of color and particularly those that result in officer-involved shootings. This is a subject of national attention and increasing public protest. In some instances, black men killed by police were struggling with mental illness or disability: Keith Lamont Scott in Charlotte – shot last week, Joseph Mann in Sacramento, Mario Woods in San Francisco, Kajime Powell in St. Louis, Freddie Gray in Baltimore, and locally, Fridoon Nehad, who was killed last year by a San Diego police officer. We believe that police officers should use force only as a last resort, and our most vulnerable San Diegans deserve their greatest sensitivity and highest levels of protection.
The ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties will continue to partner with affected communities and individuals, law enforcement, government agencies, non-profit organizations, and local elected and civic leaders to work toward meaningful solutions.
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