The police in El Cajon have released, and then updated, a press release about the shooting of Alfred Olango.
Police have video of the incident taken from a bystander, which they say backs up their account, but refuse to release the full video. This is the still that we have to go on.
We know that Olango did not have a gun or a Taser. The press release states the exact objects Olango had were a Smok TVF4 MINI attached to a Pioneer4You battery box.
The first item sounds like the one pictured on the left, as it is described as “all silver.”
Pioneer boxes look something like this:
The device in total is 7″ by 2.25″ by 1″. For a comparison, a Glock 17 is about 8″ by 5.5″ by 1.2″. If the Smok was all silver as shown above, it wouldn’t resemble a gun from any distance, let alone the few feet as shown in the picture. Given that vape devices are commonplace, police should be expected to distinguish between smoking equipment, firearms, and Tasers. That’s an expectation that was not met here.
Shooting was at 2:11, with weather in El Cajon being very hot and bright. So no “it was dark to hard to determine” defense like in the Fridoon Nehad case, where a non-weapon was misidentified also. As the still shows, police saw the device from multiple angles.
Releasing the still seems to be a way of forming a narrative without backing it up in full. You would assume that this single frame, taken out of context, makes the police account look most likely. However, you don’t have to defend police conduct as it actually looked in real-time, nor any police methods used prior to the shooting.
The police deflect why there was not a Psychiatric Emergency Response Team (PERT) personnel at this scene at the bottom of the updated press release.
The El Cajon Police Department does have an agreement with Community Research Foundation / PERT which allows certified licensed clinicians to partner with police officers in the field in order to provide direct support for mental health calls. On 9/27/16, during the hours of this incident, there was a PERT clinician with a police officer. At the specific time of this incident, that team was on a different radio call that was also PERT related. They were not immediately available.
(update: the Associated Press reports it took over an hour for police to respond and one minute to kill Olango. If it took that long, the “not immediately available” excuse doesn’t hold up. This was not a rush, in-the-moment job.
Additionally, someone allegedly so dangerous that police had to quickly kill when on the scene managed to not hurt anyone in the hour before. The person Olango was most likely to hurt was himself, given his state and the presence of traffic.)
This was a 5150 call, in which authorities come to take someone to involuntary psychiatric hold. Given that the call was about mental illness (not a call about crime or a possible criminal), having no special preparation is concerning. Though 5150s can be a good thing in the long run for patient health (I know many people who have had at least one called), this incident makes me less likely to call one in.
As someone who provided information about mental illness to those who came into contact with people with mental health problems, or were otherwise difficult to help, I’m not surprised. The department likely trumpets this local relationship in promotional materials, yet when people’s lives are on the line, they are somehow unavailable. This is a similar issue we’ve seen so far with bodycams- often there, but unavailable or otherwise unaccessible.
The release says this
At this time, the officer with the electronic control device discharged his weapon. Simultaneously, the officer with the firearm discharged his weapon several times, striking the subject.
Why, if the suspect is considered such that one officer has their Taser (rather than pistol) ready, would the two stages not be sequential. Non-lethal methods would not have worked in the death of Alfred Olango, because lethal means were used at the same time. Would Olango have survived if only the Taser been used? Much more likely.
In conclusion, large protests in El Cajon have been held in the aftermath of Olango’s death. Given the official story as presented thus far, I find considerable issue with police conduct before the shooting, the misidentification of the object held by Olango, the use of lethal force before less-lethal means were tried, and the release of a single still image without context, so to prejudice the public.