Update 2 p.m.: Police this afternoon are blocking access to the site that has been the focus of protests where Alfred Olango was shot on Sept. 27.
East County News Service
October 18, 2016 (El Cajon) — El Cajon Police declared an unlawful assembly and arrested eight protesters last night at 800 Broadway near Mollison, the site where Alfred Olango was shot by police over two weeks ago.
According to a press release, the trouble started last night around 5 p.m. when two people arrived and became angry that a makeshift memorial had been removed. Police say the strip mall’s owner hired a security company to help return to business as usual. Earlier in the day, the release states, ”participants in the memorial, who had been asked to leave the property returned and asked to collect their items. They removed the tents, grills and other memorial and personal items. Neither the property owners nor the police department removed memorial items.
Police content that the two individuals became “verbally assaultive” toward a security officer, who asked them to leave. They refused to leave and called for others to join them. Security called police, who again asked the people to leave.
“When they refused, they were placed under citizen’s arrest. At approximately 6 pm, when officers were taking custody of those two arrestees, other members of the crowd began to assault officers. Mutual aid was called for at that time,” Lieutenant Rob Ransweiler states.
He adds, “While responding to the disturbance, at least three officers witnessed a single suspect brandish a hand gun. Protesters also saw that subject draw the gun, and they tackled him. He dropped the gun and other protesters left the area with it.”
An unlawful assembly was declared via the helicopter overhead. Protesters fled into surrounding neighborhoods, prompting officers to walk the streets trying to locate the suspects that fled with the gun and the suspect who drew the gun. Protesters who refused to leave the unlawful assembly were arrested. The firearm was not recovered.
A total of 8 people were arrested. All were booked into San Diego County Jail on charges that included trespassing, delaying/obstructing an officer, refusing to leave an unlawful assembly, destruction of evidence, and assault with a deadly weapon. Those arrested ranged in agefrom22 to 37 years old. Three are residents of El Cajon, four are from San Diego, and one lives in La Mesa.
Earlier in the day, protesters filed a lawsuit against the city of El Cajon, El Cajon Police, the County of San Diego and the San Diego Sheriff’s Department claiming that a Saturday night protest gathering at the same site was peaceful. The suit claims that police declared an unlawful assembly and broke up that late-night vigil, arresting 14 people, because the incident inconvenienced police. Charges Saturday included suspicion of public intoxication and having an outstanding warrant.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of 14 people, including two minors who allegedly witnessed police arrest their mother, and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)San Diego branch.
The suit contends the dispersal order violated protesters’ First Amendment rights to freedom of assembly and expression. Some said they were holding a prayer circle. The suit seeks an injunction to halt police from stopping future assemblies or arresting peaceful demonstrators.
Police have said that after the arrests, a fight broke out among some protesters and someone said one left to get a gun. “Sensing this shift in the demeanor of the crowd, and out of concern for community safety, officers declared an unlawful assembly and ordered the group to disperse,” police Lt. Rob Ransweiler said in a statement on Oct. 2. But some remained.
Jeff Provenzano shot video and participated in that protest as well as earlier ones since the September 27 shooting. “For them to come in with such a show of force when people were just talking and praying was absolutely ridiculous,” he said a day after his arrest, the San Diego Union-Tribune reports. “There were crazier things happening other days and the cops didn’t do anything.”
The video shows 50 to 75 officers in riot gear closing in on about 20 people under a canopy near the makeshift memorial. Officers removed some posters and spoke briefly before the arrests commenced.
The shooting of Olango and ensuing protests have drawn national attention. Olango’s sister called police to report he was “not “acting like himself.” Others called 911 to report he was walking in traffic. It took 50 minutes for El Cajon police officers to respond; a psychiatric emergency response team (PERT) was on another call and not available.
Two officers responded, one drawing a taser, the other a gun when Olango failed to respond to commands and backed away. A cell phone video shows Olango pointed a vaping device that resembled a gun; both officers fired and Olango was killed.
Some civil rights advocates have called for a U.S. Justice Department investigation. The tragedy has also sparked conversation over the need for more de-escalation techniques and training to handle calls regarding an individual suffering a mental health crisis.