SAN DIEGO (CN) – San Diego District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis said Tuesday a review of the shooting of an unarmed Ugandan immigrant by an El Cajon police officer last September was justified, and no criminal charges would be filed against the officer.
Officer Richard Gonsalves shot and killed Alfred Olango on Sept. 27 in an El Cajon strip mall parking lot, about 20 miles east of San Diego. Olango’s sister Lucy had called 911 multiple times to get help for her brother, who was going through a mental health crisis stemming from the death of his best friend. She told dispatchers Olango was not behaving like himself and was walking in and out of traffic and she was worried he’d be hit and killed by a car.
Gonsalves arrived on the “5150” call, in which police are dispatched to help someone suffering a mental health crisis, nearly an hour after the 911 calls came in. A psychiatric emergency response team was out on another call and did not arrive until after the shooting, which occurred within two minutes of arriving on the scene.
The shooting sparked international outrage and protests across San Diego and the nation. A lawsuit has also been filed by some of the protesters who claim they were wrongfully arrested. Some members of Olango’s large family have filed claims with the city, the required precursor to legal action.
Dumanis said at Tuesday’s press conference the “critical” moment was when Olango refused to remove his right hand from his pants pocket, later doing so “suddenly” and taking a “shooting stance” just feet away from Gonsalves. The officer believed Olango had a gun, as shown by his reaction to duck down to avoid getting shot before firing at Olango, Dumanis said.
The manner in which Olango “suddenly” removed his hand from his pocket was “critical in determining if officers’ fear of being shot was reasonable under the circumstances,” Dumanis said.
“Instead of simply bringing his hand out and showing it to be empty or bringing the vaping device out and holding it to his side or throwing it to the ground, Mr. Olango removed his hand by quickly moving to a shooting stance,” Dumanis said.
Investigators did not review whether Gonsalves followed department policy, including de-escalation tactics, when he shot Olango. Their review only considered whether his lethal response was reasonable under the law.
Cellphone video shown at the press conference – originally released to the media in the days following the shooting – showed Olango hold up his hands in front of his face while pointing something at Gonsalves. Lucy Olango is also heard in the video pleading with her brother to remove his hand from his pocket before he takes the “shooting stance.”
The object Olango pointed at Gonsalves turned out to be an e-cigarette.
Investigators interviewed six witnesses who said Olango appeared “agitated” while pacing around the strip mall parking lot. One witness told investigators she could see there was something else in Olango’s pocket besides his hand.
Additional witnesses said Gonsalves made the right call, including one who told investigators: “The cop had every right, shoot or be killed.”
Another witness was heard in a cellphone video saying in Spanish: “The cop was in the right. He didn’t take out his hand.”
Dumanis said the circumstances surrounding the shooting were “tragic” and she hopes it can bring positive change.
“I realize that this decision will upset some in the community,” Dumanis said.
“I understand the desire among some to voice their anger and disagreement with this decision, but it is also my genuine hope that people can direct their anger into a constructive conversation that focuses on positive change. Law enforcement does not want fractured relationships with the community – we’re all part of the community.”
The District Attorney’s Office did not notify Olango’s family of its decision not to file criminal charges against Gonsalves prior to the press conference.
San Diego attorney Daniel Gilleon represents Lucy Olango and issued an emailed statement following the press conference. He said Gonsalves was “mentally unfit” to respond to a mental health crisis call and he escalated a situation that demanded de-escalation.
“The DA waited three months to repeat what she was already saying within hours of Mr. Olango’s death, when she released a cherry-picked image from the last few seconds of Mr. Olango’s life. She had already concluded that Mr. Olango’s shooting was “justified.” Why else would she show the still? To calm down all these “angry” protesters, another false narrative she continued with today? If she had any doubt that she would be saying what she said today, she sure would not have released that still back in September,” Gilleon said.
Dumanis also revealed no criminal charges would be filed in four other deadly police shootings in the county.