A 38-year-old Ugandan refugee fatally shot Tuesday by police in El Cajon, California, was in the middle of a “breakdown” when he allegedly pulled a vaping device from his pocket and pointed it at responding officers, El Cajon police and the man’s family said.
Police described Olango’s vape smoking device, or electronic cigarette, as having an all-silver cylinder that was three inches long and one inch wide. It was collected as evidence from the scene.
The shooting death of Alfred Okwera Olango prompted protests through the streets of El Cajon, a small city about 15 miles northeast of San Diego, and demands for a video of the incident to be released by police.
His family, via their attorney, quickly questioned the handling of the situation and said Olango had been in the middle of a “mental breakdown” brought on by the death of a close friend. Indeed, Olango’s sister can purportedly be heard on video from the scene berating police for killing her brother instead of subduing him.
The family’s attorney also sought to undercut the standing of the officer who killed Olango by tying the officer to an earlier, unrelated sexual harassment suit the attorney brought against him. Meanwhile details have surfaced of Olango’s checkered past with immigration, as he was twice subject to deportation proceedings in the U.S.
So far, El Cajon police have only released a still photo of Olango taking an alleged “shooting stance” before he was shot. Two officers were involved in the shooting and both were placed on administrative leave during the investigation, as is standard.
Only one of the officers fired his weapon, police said; the other fired a Taser-like device.
COURTESY DANIEL GILLEON
Police said Olango refused to comply with orders to remove his hands from his pocket and took that position before he was fired on by officers.
“At one point, the subject rapidly drew an object from his front pants pocket, placed both hands together and extended them rapidly toward the officer taking up what appeared to be a shooting stance,” police alleged in a statement released Wednesday night.
“At this time, the officer with the [Taser-like] electronic control device discharged his weapon. Simultaneously, the officer with the firearm discharged his weapon several times, striking the subject.”
Officers provided first aid at the scene, but Olango died of his injuries at the hospital, police said.
The officer who killed Olango, Richard Gonsalves, was allegedly demoted last year after a female underling sued him and the city alleging sexual harassment, the Los Angeles Times reports. Gonsalves was accused of allegedly making unwanted sexual advances toward the woman, according to the Times.
(Messages left with Gonsalves’ attorney, the city’s attorney and El Cajon police were not immediately returned. PEOPLE was not immediately able to reach Gonsalves himself.)
The attorney representing the female officer in that sexual harassment lawsuit, Daniel Gilleon, confirmed the allegations to PEOPLE. Gilleon is also assisting the Olango family following the shooting.
Gilleon alleges that Gonsalves’ harassment continued for a year, with Gonsalves allegedly sending sexual photos and texts to his client. Decrying the shooting itself, Gilleon says, “[Police] are trained to take cover and begin a dialogue and talk to [Olango] in a way that is calming. They shouldn’t have sent someone who sends out pictures of his privates to an insubordinate. ”
New details about Olango have also emerged: He was the subject of two deportation proceedings since coming to the U.S. in 1991, but both times his native Uganda refused to take him back, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) said in a statement released to PEOPLE.
In 2002, an immigration judge ordered Olango’s deportation following his conviction for transporting and selling narcotics. Then, in 2009, he was returned to ICE custody after serving a prison term for a conviction on a firearms charge in Colorado.
“At that time, ICE renewed its efforts to obtain a travel document from the Ugandan government,” according to the statement. “Once again the attempts were unsuccessful, leading to Mr. Olango’s re-release from ICE custody on an order of supervision. Up until February 2015, Mr. Olango had been reporting to the agency as required.
“However, he failed to appear for an in-person appointment with ICE officers that month and had not been encountered by the agency since.”
What Led Up to the Shooting
Before the shooting, El Cajon officers say they responded to a 911 call around 2 p.m. Tuesday of a man acting erratically behind a Mexican restaurant.
The man, who was in his 30s and wearing a black tank top and blue jeans, was “not acting like himself” and “walking in traffic, not only endangering himself, but motorists,” police said.
A YouTube video purportedly showed Olango’s sister screaming and berating officers after the shooting, as she said she telephoned police three times to help her in subduing him and told them her brother was mentally ill.
“I called for help,” she told officers. “I didn’t call you guys to kill him.”
Soon several protesters were at the scene chanting “black lives matter” and “hands up, don’t shoot.”
Police said a witness at the scene came forward and gave officers video footage of the incident.
“That witness voluntarily provided their phone to the police department and gave written consent for the officers to view the video,” according to a police statement. “This was the only phone provided to officers in this investigation. No other phones were taken from witnesses. Investigators are reviewing the video and other video recovered from the scene.”
Olango Family Attorney Criticizes Police Behavior
Olango’s mother later said her son was not mentally ill but was reeling from the death of a close friend, according to NBC San Diego.
Friends of Olango said he had been distraught over the recent death of his boyhood friend and fellow African refugee Bereket Demsse.
“He was just so depressed,” Vicky Ellis, Olango’s former girlfriend, told the Los Angeles Times. “I’d never heard him so upset.”
Gilleon, the family’s attorney, said Wednesday that Olango “was going through a mental emergency – a mental breakdown – because he had lost someone he loved dearly,” according to NBC San Diego.
“We all go through a bad day,” Gilleon said, clarifying that Olango was not mentally ill.
Speaking to PEOPLE, he reiterates the call for police to release video of the shooting. He says Olango was shot five times.
“That is one of my primary goals, is to demand in an open way we want the video released – and express our frustration that they were willing to cherry-pick one image out of the video,” Gilleon says. “It was one image that supported their case. It has been circulated and talked about all over the country. In my opinion it supports the narrative they want to advance that it is all Alfred’s fault.”
Gilleon says the police narrative around the shooting has so far excluded information about what happened. He says the officers are trained for such situations and should have started a dialogue with Olango to deescalate the situation.
“They have [Olango] standing in a stance that looks like he is holding a gun. It is unfair because there was a lot of stuff that happened before that point,” Gilleon says.
He continues, “It is not fair they are litigating their case in the media. I don’t think it is fair.”
El Cajon’s mayor said that the FBI would join the investigation. “The most important thing to take away from this meeting today is a tragedy occurred In El Cajon yesterday. We lost a life. Nobody wants to see the loss of a life,” Mayor Bill Wells said at a Wednesday news conference, according to the Times.
“The family is devastated,” Wells said. “The person who lost his life is devastated. Even the police officers involved in the shooting are devastated, and certainly the community is devastated.”
Olango’s death follows recent fatal police shootings in North Carolina and Oklahoma.