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Monday, June 17, 2024 | Back issues
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Police Restraining Order Denied in Calif. Protests

SAN DIEGO (CN) — A federal court judge denied a request late Friday for a temporary restraining order against El Cajon law enforcement from protesters who say they were wrongfully arrested at a late-night vigil for police shooting victim Alfred Olango.

U.S. District Judge Janis Sammartino found that two separate incidents in which the El Cajon Police Department declared protests as "unlawful assemblies" did not warrant injunctive relief against law enforcement.

"Irreparable injury must be more than merely possible," she noted in her 14-page order.

The judge pointed out that protesters had returned to the vigil site multiple times between Oct. 2 and Oct. 14 without incident.

The protesters' attorney Bryan Pease said in an interview that Sammartino's ruling "withheld deciding the merits of our case for now, and instead found that there was not enough evidence that the actions of police will be repeated."

The protests centered around the incidents of Sept. 27, when El Cajon Police Officer Richard Gonsalves shot and killed Olango in a strip mall parking lot 15 miles east of San Diego.

Upset over the death of a friend, Olango was having a mental health crisis when Gonsalves and Officer Josh McDaniel approached him in response to a 911 call from Olango's sister.

Olango held a metal object up and took a "shooting stance" before Gonsalves shot him four times and McDaniel deployed a stun gun.

Olango turned out to be holding an e-cigarette.

After the shooting, hundreds of protesters from all over San Diego County descended on El Cajon to protest the killing of Olango, an unarmed black immigrant from Uganda.

Police say the protests were mostly peaceful, but on Oct. 1 more than a dozen protesters were arrested after what officers described as a "shift in the demeanor of the crowd" when a fight broke out and reports arose that someone was going to get a gun.

On Oct. 15, a group of protesters reportedly blocked an intersection and attacked motorists, prompting the owner of the strip mall to ask police to arrest the participants for trespassing.

The protesters, led by the San Diego chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, sued the San Diego County sheriff and El Cajon Police chief Oct. 17.

Judge Sammartino found she didn't even need to consider the plaintiffs' request for the temporary restraining order to block law enforcement from declaring "ongoing peaceful vigils to be unlawful assemblies" and from "threatening to arrest" individuals just for being at the strip mall.

"[The protesters] have not shown that law enforcement has a specific blanket policy of erroneously enforcing [state laws]," she wrote, nor was there a "persistent pattern" of law enforcement incorrectly applying state laws.

The judge noted the protesters' request "seeks only to tell law enforcement to follow the law" and that it lacked the specificity and detail needed to warrant injunctive relief.

But Pease said additional incidents since the ruling have "[shown] police misconduct is continuing and ongoing."

He added that his clients may seek another temporary restraining order.

The Sheriff's Department declined to comment.

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