SAN DIEGO (CN) — Police in El Cajon, California, have finally revealed what Alfred Olango was holding when officers shot and killed him Tuesday: an e-cigarette.
The news came ahead of a vigil that turned into more of a protest Wednesday night, as hundreds of residents came out to mourn the death of the 38-year-old.
Olango was shot shortly after 2 p.m. Tuesday by Officer Richard Gonsalves while another officer simultaneously used a Taser. Olango’s sister had called 911 three times in the hour preceding the shooting and told dispatchers her brother was “not acting like himself” and was having some type of mental health emergency.
Initial media reports said Olango had suffered a seizure, but that has not been confirmed by the police or his family.
El Cajon police said that when officers arrived, Olango was pacing with his hands in his pockets and he did not listen to their “directives.” Olango then “rapidly pulled an object” from his waistband and pointed it at an officer while in a “shooting stance.”
That object turned out to be a silver, 3-inch vape smoking pen, the department said.
The Associated Press reported Olango was shot by Gonsalves within a minute of his arrival on the scene, information police have not yet made public.
That Olango was unarmed when he pointed a shiny metal object at police who shot and killed him is a story San Diegans are already familiar with.
San Diego Police Officer Neal Browder shot and killed another mentally ill man, Fridoon Nehad, in the city’s Midway District in April 2015. Nehad held a shiny object in his hand when officers shot him. That shiny object turned out to be a pen, and Nehad’s family is now suing Browder, the city and San Diego Police Department.
The El Cajon Police Department’s updated press release came after community members called for transparency Wednesday and El Cajon Mayor Bill Wells vowed to give the public information as he receives it. Wells also revealed the police department did not plan to host another press conference on the shooting for several days.
The department also addressed questions about why it did not send a member of its Psychiatric Emergency Response Team, which includes licensed clinicians who partner with officers on calls for mental health emergencies. The department said their PERT clinician was on another police call and “was not immediately available.” The mayor said all El Cajon police are trained on how to handle mental health crises, but said all officers may not have uniform training on how to handle those situations.
El Cajon’s City Council recently approved the purchase of body-worn cameras for its police force, but officers have yet to be outfitted with the devices.
Police have refused to release a cellphone video of the shooting, citing a new countywide policy which allows the District Attorney to hold video that may be used as evidence in a criminal trial. The department opted instead to release a single still frame which appears to show a black man pointing his hands at a police officer.
U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy said the Justice Department is ready to begin an investigation if called to do so.
“We are aware of the incident involving the death of Alfred Olango and are in regular contact with local authorities. If in the course of the local investigation, information comes to light of a potential federal civil rights violation, the Justice Department is prepared to review,” Duffy said in a written statement.
Hundreds of mourners gathered at a vigil Wednesday evening. Many people spoke using a grainy loudspeaker that made it hard to hear their message, but those present nonetheless raised their fists and nodded in solidarity.
Maria Medina brought her daughter to the vigil and told Courthouse News she worked with Olango earlier this year at a local Hooters restaurant. She said Olango trained her in the kitchen and “was always willing to help someone out” and often the go-to man for co-workers seeking advice.
Medina said Olango had relocated to San Diego from Arizona and that he had children, but she did not know if they lived with him in San Diego. She said she had been in touch with her former co-workers, who plan to hold a fundraiser for Olango’s family at the restaurant.
At one point, protesters got into an altercation with a man wearing Donald Trump’s signature “Make America Great Again” hats. Local news outlet 10News reported the man approached one of their reporters prior to the incident and asked her what she thought would happen if he wore the hat to the protest.
Around 7 p.m., hundreds of people marched down Broadway near where Olango was shot and killed. Protesters seemed to change course from where the march was planned, as officers had blocked traffic down the street but cars were not blocked from driving immediately where people were marching. Protesters chanted call-and-response phrases like “Tell me what democracy looks like/This is what democracy looks like,” while many bystanders honked their horns and yelled “black lives matter” in support.
Back at the spot in the parking lot where Olango was shot and killed, a couple dozen people held a moment of silence for Olango and other unarmed black men killed by police.
Kovu A., one of the men who lead the vigil, declined to provide his last name because he is in the military. He said there was disorganization at the vigil because there were multiple groups involved in spreading the word about the event and people’s raw emotions made it difficult to come together.
“This was organized off pure emotion. Everyone didn’t necessarily know what they wanted to do, they just knew they needed to do something,” he said.
Some mourners thought it best to protest and chant in the streets, while others wanted to come together to quietly remember the man who died.
Kovu is a resident of El Cajon and said he heard the sirens Tuesday just a few blocks from his house and went to where people were gathering at the scene of the shooting. He said he’s lived in other cities where tragic shootings have happened and that he’s become “numb” to the stories of black men who’ve been shot and killed by police.
He said people come out because they have common ground, even though they may be very different from one another.
“It shows you’re not alone in how you’re feeling. Most of the people here don’t know [Olango], but they’re here because they need to heal. We have common ground,” he said.
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