Protesters filled the streets of El Cajon a day after an unarmed man was shot and killed by police officers. They marched, sometimes through traffic, in the city’s downtown, but with few violent outbursts. They held signs and chanted “no justice, no peace,” “hands up, don’t shoot” and “black lives matter.”
Video from the scene showed at one point several protesters turning to attack a man wearing a Make America Great Again baseball hat.
At another point, some of the protesters threw water bottles at police officers. Other protesters sat on the ground or linked arms in a circle.
The protests began after a police officer shot and killed Alfred Okwera Olango, 38, on Tuesday afternoon. Olango had a vape pen in his pants pocket, and police said when he drew it and pointed it at two officers while taking a “shooting stance,” one of the officers shot him several times. The other officer hit him with a Taser.
Olango’s sister first called 911 to say her brother was “not acting like himself” just before 1 p.m. Tuesday, said El Cajon Chief of Police Jeff Davis. Two officers responded to the 800 block of Broadway about 50 minutes later.
“The initial call was almost 50 minutes before we responded because of calls for service,” Davis said. “It did take us that long to clear officers to get out there.”
Within a minute after the officers’ arrival, Olango was shot, according to El Cajon police.
Davis said Olango “refused multiple instructions by the first officer on the scene and concealed his hand in his pants pocket.”
“The subject paced back and forth while officers tried to talk to him,” Davis said. “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.”
One officer then tased the man while the other officer with the gun “discharged his weapon several times,” hitting the man, Davis said.
Davis said a witness gave detectives a video of the shooting she’d recorded on her cell phone and that it “all coincides with officers’ statements,” Davis said. But he said that video would not be released until after the San Diego County District Attorney’s office completes its investigation. He did release a still image from the video showing Olango pointing the vape pen at the police officers.
The El Cajon police department is working on a program to have officers wear body cameras, but none have been issued, Davis said.
Davis said both officers had more than 21 years of police service and are now on administrative leave.
Olango was an El Cajon resident and a refugee from Uganda.
Agnes Hassan, originally from Sudan, said she spent time in a refugee camp with Olango.
She said they both suffered to get to the U.S. and described Olango as well-educated butmentally ill.
A news release from the El Cajon Police Department said it works with a Psychiatric Emergency Response Team of licensed clinicians who can help on mental health calls. During the time when police responded to Olango, “that team was on a different radio call” and “were not immediately available.”
El Cajon Mayor Bill Wells asked residents to remain calm in a news conference Wednesday afternoon. He said he watched the video of Olango’s shooting and it pained him.
“I saw a man who was distraught, a man who was acting in ways that looked like he was in great pain, and I saw him get gunned down and killed and it broke my heart,” he said. “If it was my son, I would be devastated.”
Wells also identified the police officer who shot and killed Olango as Richard Gonsalves.
Community activists and faith based leaders gathered in front of the El Cajon police station Wednesday morning. Four lit candles sat on the curb where Olango was killed. The rally was emotional but peaceful.
Eddie Price, a businessman in El Cajon, said he is fighting to understand the emotions he’s feeling. Price said he wept openly when he found out about the killing which reflects too many other police shootings around the nation.
“You know this young man allegedly was a refugee. He came here seeking refuge. Refuge. And this is how we treat people seeking refuge,” Price said. “But these feelings that I’m feeling right now are not new. This is not a justice problem. This is past justice. This goes into the morality of humanity. Everybody ought to be conflicted about this. Imagine if this was you. Imagine if this happened to you every day of your life and you can count like clockwork that someone is going to get disrespected today. Just because of the color of their skin.”
Estella Del Rios, a civil rights activist from El Cajon, said District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis has never ruled a police shooting unjustified. That’s why Del Rios wants an outside party to look at what happened and to make a determination.
“This is a life,” Del Rios said. “A life that matters and I just want to say we demand as a community, a federal prosecution. We know there’s a photo out there that tells just one story, one side of the story. The family needs answers they need it now.”