SAN DIEGO (CN) — Addressing the media for the first time, a mother whose son was shot and killed by a police officer said Thursday that her son was not mentally ill but suffering a breakdown after losing his best friend to suicide.
Alfred Olango, 38, was shot and killed Tuesday afternoon by El Cajon Police Officer Richard Gonzalves 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.
It turns out he was extremely upset over the loss of a loved one.
Olango’s mother Pamela Benge addressed the packed room of reporters at the San Diego chapter of the National Action Network, a civil rights religious organization spearheaded by Rev. Al Sharpton. Through tears, Benge said Olango and other members of her family were refugees from war-torn Uganda and thought they had left violence behind them in Africa.
They sought safety in America, but following the shooting death of her unarmed son, Benge asked: “Where should we go?”
She added, “If you have seen war you would never, ever want to step near it. People here have not been through war. I have lived through it. You don’t know how painful it is to live in a war zone.”
Benge said Olango loved to play soccer and deeply cared for his family. She was joined by nearly two dozen of Olango’s family members, including his daughter. Benge was the only family member to directly address the media.
It was not clear if the sister who dialed 911 was among the family members at Thursday’s press conference calling for justice for Olango.
San Diego pastor Shane Harris said “it’s arrogant to think we only have palm trees and beaches and don’t have any problems.”
He also said it was unacceptable that dispatchers seemed concerned only about asking Olango’s sister about his race, and that when police finally arrived to assist Olango in the city 15 miles east of San Diego they killed him instead of helping him.
“They say they’re here to protect and serve, but we can’t seem to get any protection or service,” Harris said.
He reiterated the message he shared at a press conference earlier in the week: that local prosecutors, including San Diego District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis, can’t be trusted to fairly investigate the shooting.
“Local prosecutors cannot investigate local police,” he said. “It’s clear as day local prosecutors have failed us. They’re failing us around the country. I don’t expect this district attorney to do any better.”
San Diego Attorney Dan Gilleon, who’s given the family legal advice since Olango was shot, called out Dumanis and the El Cajon Police Department for “litigating this case in the media” and failing to fire a problem officer with a “cowboy mentality.”
Gilleon said Dumanis can and should publicly release the cellphone video taken of the shooting, which police have retained as evidence in their investigation, calling the single still frame the department has released from the video “the image that they want you to see.”
The photo was released along with a statement and shows a black man who appears to be holding his outward and pointing them at a police officer. While police never said Olango had a gun or weapon, they maintained early on he pointed “an object” at officers and took a “shooting stance” just before being shot.
That object turned out to be an e-cigarette.
“Stop playing games, Bonnie,” Gilleon said. “You’re not informing the public, you’re misinforming the public.”
The attorney also chastised the department for not firing Gonsalves over past misconduct where he was found to have sexually harassed a subordinate with explicit text messages. Gilleon said that Gonsalves got demoted instead of fired for something “anyone else” would get fired for doing.
Harris said policing across the nation needs to change.
“From little boys to big adults there’s a problem with how we police in this country,” Harris said.
He called on communities across the nation to hold protests in Olango’s honor Saturday at their local DA’s offices.
A rally for Olango is scheduled for 10 a.m. Saturday at the Promenade Park in El Cajon. Olango’s family is expected to attend the event.
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