Analysis of police press release about Alfred Olango raises serious questions (updated)

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.”

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Pioneer boxes look something like this:

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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.

Other notes:

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.

The story of San Diego Black Lives Matter, and the lesson of radical inclusion

A good article by Thom Senzee about conflict within the San Diego Black Lives Matter movement.  The original group had older leaders who wanted to focus on the “black” aspect solely, to the exclusion of other identities like LGBT+. Given that LGBT+ people are especially vulnerable to hate crimes, any good group needs to deal with the intersectionality of black and other identities or labels. It also reminds us that the black community has its own issues with intolerance, particularly given the large population of evangelical Christians.

Homophobia and transphobia inside any Black Lives Matter local chapter is beyond ironic, according to Cat Mendonca (31) of San Diego. She points out that the movement itself was founded by three people who identify as queer women of color.

“There’s a lack of understanding that the Black Lives Matter movement, which they say they believe in and claim to serve, is and always was a queer-inclusive, queer-affirming movement,” says Mendonca, referring to a small but forceful group of leaders of the old BLM-SD chapter. “It was really disappointing and distracting.”

Social media messages obtained by San Diego LGBT Weekly purportedly shared among leaders of the old, now-dissolved local Black Lives Matter San Diego chapter reveal that the group may indeed have been tainted by homophobia and transphobic sentiments from at least one leader.

“The movement is supposed to be a safe space for all people regardless of their race, ethnicity, sexual orientation or gender,” says Mendonca.

 

Out in the cold

So the police in San Diego decided to confiscate anything that could protect houseless people from the rain. This right before a bad El Niño hit a few hours later.

Disgusting.

Courtesy of friends of Unspoken Politics, the San Diego Free Press:

You have to wonder what they were thinking in city hall. On Monday morning the police department conducted a sweep of sidewalk homeless encampments as a major winter storm bore down on San Diego.

The “environmental” staff showed up on 17th and Imperial around 5:30am – took anything unattended – just when people were waking up and had gone up to Neil Good Day Center to go to the bathroom. So their stuff was considered Discarded Debris.When activist David Ross got there around 8am – after stopping at the Bargain market to buy 100 large black trash bags, people were all huddled under the Imperial St bridge. They had lost everything.

. . .

It’s not like this weather forecast was any secret. None-the-less, in the hours leading up to the first round of torrential rail and hail, the San Diego Police Department were busy confiscating tarps, tents and other makeshift shelters erected by homeless people on the periphery of downtown.

The impending bad weather apparently wasn’t seen as an obstacle to enforcing bright green notices posted last week warning of “Cleanup and Property Removal.” The problem is/was that there was no place else for the humans targeted by this purge to go.

 

 

The culture of ‘imminent threat’

 

In my current home of San Diego, a man named Fridoon Rawshan Nehad was shot this spring by a police officer. While there was a surveillance video of the shooting, its release was blocked by much of the political apparatus, most notably District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis.

The video is obviously graphic, and is available here. Officer Neal Browder arrives on scene around four minutes in, with him opening fire about 25 seconds later. In this screenshot Nehad is in the foreground, and the white flash is a gunshot.

Screen Shot 2015-12-23 at 12.15.29 AM

I won’t go into the details of the video itself, since it seems discussion of systemic state violence gets bogged down into a ‘was the victim threatening’ discussion for each case. What I will say is that Nehad did not have a knife (he actually had a pen), he was experiencing a mental health episode, he was not moving any faster than a casual walk, and though he was walking towards Browder he was not walking at Browder.

That this situation even happened is testament to how people fall through the cracks- Nehad suffered from serious mental illness and houselessness for many years prior to his death. Despite the prevalence of mood disorders and schizophrenia, most police departments have no understanding of how to deal with individuals who are unable to understand and comply with police demands.

District Attorney Dumanis and the police leadership are selling the same justification as usual- the idea that as the victim was an imminent threat, lethal force is justifiable.cjones11292014

This thinking ties the domestic to the international. Drone strikes, airstrikes, and the wholesale invasion of nations are all justified based on imminent threat ideology. With the militarization of the police, calculations about the use of lethal force by American institutions sound the same no matter where on Earth you happen to be.

But the thing is, the definition of an imminent threat can only be stretched so far. Nehad was erratic, but he was not in any sense threatening. Most of the body count from drone strikes had no connection to threats against the US or the West. The structures of power, at any level, want the maximum amount of autonomy and the minimum amount of accountability. Eliminating threats is only the stated purpose. Gaining power by setting precedent and pushing against any and all limitations is the key. With DA Dumanis (known for being corrupt) as an ally to prevent judicial oversight, the police rise above the law.

Many cases since Mike Brown throughout the United States were even more egregious than Nehad- they lacked even the foundation of a defense. But almost nobody goes to jail. Police security culture makes investigation and prosecution- even if the courts are willing, all but impossible.

The list of those killed by city and county police in San Diego is long. The answer to ‘who polices the police?’ is pretty simple- it’s you. Agitation at the grassroots level have made sweeping lethal police shootings under the rug far more difficult. Popular opinion since Ferguson has shifted radically. The idea that America is not a color-blind, egalitarian society is creeping into the mainstream. Police power grows best in the shadows, and the institution never expects dedicated resistance.

San Diego Sheriff hate mail III: Media reports, department takes things “very seriously”

Following the press conference by United Against Police Terror and its allies this morning, news coverage is pouring in. The conference was followed by a perfunctory statement by the department stating that they were taking the matter of hate email coming from the Sheriff’s Department IP address “very seriously” and were conducting an internal investigation.

NBC 7 San Diego: “Sheriff’s Dept. Launches Internal Investigation After Activist Group Receives Hate Email”

From NBC 7 San Diego newscast, 9/22/15. Shows excerpt of hate mail.
From NBC 7 San Diego newscast, 9/22/15. Shows excerpt of hate mail.

The email says, in part, “The police aren’t the problem. It’s the criminals out there victimizing the real citizens of the country that are the problem.”

Much of the email is too profane to broadcast on TV or copy in an article.

Mendonça said perhaps the most troubling part of the email was where the writer described Ferguson protesters as “animals.”

“It just perpetuates that ‘lesser of a being’ (stereotype), and it highlights how much racism is still present to this day,” [Catherine] Mendonça said. “There’s still hundreds of years of racism that we still need to overcome.”

San Diego Union-Tribune: “Sheriff’s probe origin of hate email to activist group” by Pauline Repard

The email rant that referred to Ferguson, Mo. protesters as animals and said “real citizens” of the county love the police was sent Sept. 16 to the website of United Against Police Terror San Diego, its spokeswoman, Cat Mendonca said.

Mendonca held a news conference outside the sheriff’s Kearny Mesa headquarters on Tuesday to say her organization had filed a complaint with the Citizens’ Law Enforcement Review Board, which handles complaints against sheriff’s deputies.

CBS 8 News: “Sheriff’s Department Investigating Profane Email”

Jeff Olson of Socialist Alternative San Diego speaks at the press conference. 9/22/15
Jeff Olson of Socialist Alternative San Diego speaks at the press conference. 9/22/15

Protesters are calling on Sheriff Bill Gore to take action after a profane email traced back to sheriff’s headquarters was sent to an activist group critical of law enforcement policies.

Univision San Diego: Organización recibe correo amenazante y lo rastrean hasta el Departamento del Alguacil (Organization receives threatening mail tracked to the Sheriff’s Department)”

Press conference at Sheriff's Dept. 9/22/15
Press conference at Sheriff’s Dept. 9/22/15

En un comunicado de prensa señalaron que el mensaje fue recibido el miércoles 16 de septiembre con insultos, defendiendo a la policía y llamando a los protestantes de policías de Ferguson “animales”.

Mencionaron que en esta era de anonimato en internet, el recibir este tipo de correos es algo común para la organización, lo que no fue común, fue que supuestamente lo recibieron del Departamento del Alguacil.

Frontera San Diego: “Carta de odio enviada a activistas desde oficina del Alguacil” by Ana L. Gómez

A copy of the complaint filed against the Sheriff's Department by United Against Police Terror San Diego. 9/22/15
A copy of the complaint filed against the Sheriff’s Department by United Against Police Terror San Diego. 9/22/15

The Anti-Media: “Email Traced Back to San Diego Sheriff’s Shows How Cops Really Feel About Protesters” by Derrick Broze

This latest saga between police accountability activists and the police is yet another example of the divisions gripping the country. Without a doubt, individuals who threaten violence against other free humans should be held accountable. However, we should not allow ourselves to be sucked into a false paradigm of the people versus the police.

Any good-hearted police officers remaining within the ranks of the increasingly militarized local police departments should quickly leave as conscientious objectors. Only by making it clear that their intention is to support the community — not defend the state — will officers gain the support of the people. At the same time, the activists in the streets should make it clear they are against violent criminals, not misguided individuals who joined the police force in an effort to serve and protect.

We can find common ground and strengthen our bonds and unity by recognizing the way this system is dividing us along lines of race and profession, among other things. We are one and it’s time we start organizing and acting like it. Let’s not further divide ourselves. Instead, let’s work towards the harmony and unity of all people and focus our energies on our mutual enemies.

The Raw Story: “Someone in the San Diego sheriff’s office thinks police protesters are drug-addicted ‘animals'” by Travis Gettys (Sept. 24)

The San Diego sheriff’s department launched an investigation after someone sent obscenity-riddled hate mail to an activist group protesting police brutality.

But investigators soon learned, like the babysitter in the urban legend, the calls are coming from inside the house.

Mediaite coverage by Ken Meyer (has mistake- this was the county sheriff not the San Diego PD)

spokeswoman Cat Mendonca and Lt. Marco Garmo held a press conference on Tuesday where they said that an internal investigation was underway, acknowledging that the IP address did, indeed, come from their computers.

Copblock: “San Diego Activist Group Tracks Hate Mail to Sheriff’s Department” by Dylan Donnelly

This message isn’t anything new for police or the internet.  The author illustrates a common “Us vs Them” mentality among police officers that dehumanizes the people they claim to serve.  The “thin blue line” culture is intolerant of dissent, drawing a line between the “real citezens [sic]” and those not worthy of police protection, common decency, dignity or life.

Catherine Mendonca of UAPTSD said, “I really do hope that the broader discussion of why we’re a target can happen #SDSTOLENLIVES need #Justice uaptsd.org“.

San Diego Sheriff hate mail II: activists take it to the media

Catherine Mendonca speaks to the media about hate mail traced to police computers.
Catherine Mendonca speaks to the media about hate mail traced to police computers. Credit- Birdie Gutierrez

A press conference was held outside a San Diego County Sheriff’s Department administrative building this morning, concerning the September 16 hate mail received by police watchdog group United Against Police Terror. The unsigned email had an IP address that matched a Sheriff’s Department building in San Diego. Full info and commentary at an earlier post here.

Five San Diego TV channels covered the rally, so check the local news tonight for coverage of an episode of appalling police behavior in San Diego.

Rafael Bautista speaks to Univision regarding police threats to San Diego activists. Credit- Birdie Gutierrez
Rafael Bautista speaks to Univision regarding police threats to San Diego activists. Credit- Birdie Gutierrez

San Diego Sheriff’s Department sends not-so-anonymous hate mail to activists

The toxic atmosphere between San Diego law enforcement and the activists looking to hold police accountable for unjust and illegal actions took another hit Wednesday, as an organization received a threatening email that appears to come from the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department.

United Against Police Terror San Diego (UAPTSD) received an email through the contact page of their website at 6:19 PST on September 16. Posted in ALL CAPS, the email ridiculed UAPTSD and their mission. The sender praised gang injunctions and referred to protestors in places like Ferguson as “animals.” They drew a line between activists and “the real citezens [sic] of this county and the nation” who “work hard” and “dont [sic] accept government welfare”. The email ends by stating “the good people of this county and country will always prevail over scum like you. Good luck. Your [sic] going to need it.”

Threatening email sent to United Against Police Terror San Diego.
Threatening email sent to United Against Police Terror San Diego.

The email is unsigned, and comes from the address “SISCKOKID1560@gmail.com”. It is clear that the individual believed their hate mail to be anonymous.

However, email sent through the UAPTSD website contact page logs the IP address of the sender. Using a IP lookup service, the email seems to come from the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department- in particular the Communication Center located at 5555 Overland Ave, in Building 12.

Full information about the IP address that sent the email.
Full information about the IP address that sent the email.

This is corroborated with the text of the email itself- the author uses “county” again and again rather than “city” or “state”, indicating an origin within county law enforcement.

Hatred and juvenility from San Diego law enforcement organizations is nothing new. This email is the product of a culture rooted in racism and inability to tolerate dissent. When the author separates protestors from “real citezens [sic]”, it makes sense why San Diego police treat some people with dignity and others as lesser beings. This email also emerged from a facility paid for by residents of the county, reinforcing the activist claim that more police funding doesn’t lead to safer societies. It’s not just the weapons and technology that’s been militarized, it’s the wartime outlook that divides everyone into allies or enemies.

The Guardian lists 174 unarmed people killed by police in the United States so far in 2015. That’s only the tip of a much larger system of violence, profiling, detention. A county law enforcement official calling those that want justice “scum” is not one bad apple. These people emerge from a rotten system, with a thousand different symptoms. Using a police network to threaten activists is just one.

There will be a press conference about this on Tuesday, September 22 at noon. Updates about the precise location and other info will be at the Facebook event page here.