EL CAJON’S WILD WEEK: OFFICER INVOLVED SHOOTING, NUDITY BAN, PROTESTS AND PARKWAY PLAZA CLOSURE

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Did lack of mental healthcare “PERT” team response contribute to Olango’s death? 

Suicide Help Resources included below

By Jonathan Goetz

September 29, 2016 (El Cajon) – East San Diego County’s El Cajon was rocked Tuesday with an officer involved shooting of an unarmed black man, Alfred Okwera Olango. The city has remained in the spotlight all week.  Lost amid the blitz of media coverage has been other news, including a nudity ban targeting homeless people.

In chronological order, here are the highlights and lowlights:

TUESDAY AFTERNOON

Police were called at approximately 1 p.m. and shot Olango within minutes of arriving. Some believe that had a social worker been present, Olango would be alive today. He was reported to police by an individual, possibly a family member, as acting strangely and was found weaving in and out of traffic, and believed to have been mentally ill.

The City Council voted to partner with the County of San Diego Mental Health with prearranged visits to homeless hot-spots on June 14, in a sign that the Council is warming to the idea of embedding social workers with police officers.

The same afternoon as the shooting, in trying to get their arms around the high number of homeless in El Cajon, the City Council voted to give the El Cajon Police Department more power to make arrests and issue citations by forwarding a nudity ban specifically aimed at the homeless population to a second reading.

El Cajon City Council, Tuesday, September 27 2016

According to the report filed by City Attorney Morgan Foley there were “reports of persons exposing their private parts outside of stores along the Second Street corridor while changing clothes in public…without an ordinance prohibiting such conduct, law enforcement has no tool to address these problems unless the person's conduct is determined to meet the definition of ‘indecent exposure,’ under Penal Code section 314. Section 314 requires proof that the person is (1) willfully and lewdly exposing his private parts and (2) doing so in a public place or a place where there are others present to be offended or annoyed by the conduct. In the prosecution of a violation of section 314 it is often difficult to prove both elements.”

According to City Councilmember Tony Ambrose, “Mr. Mayor I think this is a long time coming. I brought this up a couple years ago because a number of businesses along second street were complaining about members of the homeless disrobing in public.”

The motion was passed at the first reading by the El Cajon City Council the same afternoon as the shooting. The nudity ban was moved by Ambrose, seconded by Star Bales and passed by a 5/0 vote. A second reading is required for the new weapon against the homeless to take effect.

TUESDAY NIGHT

Massive protests rock El Cajon, even involving the shutting down of freeways, the night of the shooting. NBC San Diego has great video here http://www.nbcsandiego.com/news/local/El-Cajon-Chopper-Protest-Unrest-Police-Shooting-Alfred-Alongo-395158511.html

WEDNESDAY

Police and civic leaders held a press conference Wednesday morning, announcing that Olango had died of his injuries.  They confirmed his sister called three times and it took 50 minutes for officers to respond.  They revealed a photo showing Olango in what appeared to be a shooter pose, and stated the officers. Police have said one officer fired a Taser, the other, a service revolver after Olango pulled something out of his pocket and aimed it at officers.

 Mayor Bill Wells revealed that one of the officers involved in the shooting was Officer Richard Gonsalves---an officer previously involved in a sex scandal that has led to two lawsuits against the city.  Wells urged people to remain calm and wait for all facts to be gathered, but expressed empathy for family and all concerned about the tragedy. “I saw a man who was distraught, I saw a man who was in pain,” he said of Olango moments before the killing. 

After the officials’ press conference, civil rights leaders and religious leaders held their own rally.  Rev. Shane Harris of the National Action Network called for a U.S. Justice Department investigation.  A friend of the family, Agnes Hassan, noted that that Olango was a refugee from Uganda, along with his family, who came here for a better life and escape violence. “Then all this happens again.” She said people with mental illness are treated with respect in Africa, adding, “How come you do not deal with them?”  according to Reporting San Diego.

Wednesday afternoon, during a large protest march through the city. law enforcement closed Southbound 67 off-ramps to Fletcher Parkway and the entirety of Parkway Plaza.  The car show in downtown El Cajon was also cancelled.

Patrons were informed of the mall’s closure by the mall’s security guards, who then asked them to leave if they didn’t immediately vacate. A police trunk was open revealing what appeared to be an older looking machine gun, helmet and what may have been body bags.

Media outlets converged at the Police Department, which was supposed to be the site of a candlelight vigil that organizers cancelled so as not to interfere with a memorial vigil that took place at the shooting site.

But on Wednesday night, other than a large police presence, things were calm. City Officials spent the day trying to de-escalate the situation, including a press conference by Mayor Bill Wells and the release of a photo that looked like Olango and officers both in shooting positions.

Approximately a hundred police cars from at least El Cajon, San Diego and County Sheriff’s were prepared for much more than materialized, which was a gathering of about a hundred primarily Chaldeans organized by the Neighborhood Market Association’s Mark Arabo. Chaldean is a term typically reserved for Iraqi Christians.

Groups of five to twenty squad cars crisscrossed western El Cajon, securing freeway onramps and positioning themselves close to the pastor lead gathering next to 801 Broadway. Below is a picture of the remnants of a much larger force at Denny’s on Mollison that was deployed elsewhere as the night progressed.

According to one source close to the investigation, a police worn body camera captured the beginning of the confrontation.

The El Cajon City Council had approved the purchase of body worn cameras an associated equipment/services on August 9, 2016, becoming the seventh City in the County to purchase body cameras.

They did this the same day they notified the Grand Jury they disagreed with their findings on the homeless and were in fact doing too much to help, and also disagreeing that they would not be implementing a Citizens Committee on the Police Department, which was rocked when it was revealed that an officer was sending nude pictures to subordinates. 

Additional videotape exists and comes from a witness who surrendered her cell phone to police. Both videos are expected to be released in their entirety by District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis in approximately thirty days.

If the officers’ version of the story turns out to be correct, El Cajon may have seen a suicide by cop.

If you or someone you know is considering suicide, help is available. You can learn interpersonal effectiveness, distress tolerance/reality acceptance skills, emotion regulation and mindfulness through Dr. Marsha Linehan’s Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT). Many programs accept insurance, including Medi-Cal.

Additionally, free weekly support groups exist, a leading one being Recovery International (R.I.), where participants practice cognitive therapy in a group setting. San Diego County is saturated with meetings and they can be found at https://www.recoveryinternational.org/meetings/find-a-meeting/

There is no telling what effect the commotion will have on Sunshine Horton’s Miracle Maker Birthday Celebration. Tonight from 5pm to 10pm the Downtown Café at 182 E. Main Street is donating 20% of the bill to Rady Children’s Peckham Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders in honor of Sunshine’s daughter, Virginia Anderson, and honoring all USA Fallen Officers.