On October 01 2016, I wrote of Alfred Olango, a Ugandan immigrant who was shot and killed by a San Diego Police Officer. Olango, apparently mentally disturbed, and potentially under the influence of drugs, pointed a vaping device at two police officers in a stance that exactly mimicked a handgun firing stance. My tentative conclusion was that Olango committed “suicide by cop,” a not uncommon tactic of some who act in such a way as to convince police officers they are an imminent, deadly threat. I wrote:
The responding officers had reason to believe he might be on drugs, mentally ill, or behaving oddly for some other reason, which made Olango potentially dangerous, ratcheting up their internal threat meters. What the article did not say is the officers were certainly telling Olango to slowly remove his hands from his pockets. Why? That’s where weapons are often kept, any competent officer would have done that, and his refusal to do as they asked would dramatically move their threat meter needles. The article suggests that one officer was readying his Taser. What it does not indicate is the other had surely unholstered his handgun and was probably at ready (holding the weapon in a two-handed grip, its muzzle pointed toward the general area of Olango’s waistline). Notice that the officers were properly positioned so that if they had to fire, they would not shoot each other.
At this point, Olango had control of the situation. If he simply and slowly removed his empty hands from his pockets, and did as the officers asked, he would almost surely not have been shot. But he apparently not only rapidly and dramatically drew the vaping device, which had a shape that could easily be taken for the barrel of a handgun, but he simultaneously moved into a two-handed shooter’s stance, as depicted in the photograph.
Just as was the case in my long-ago situation, the officers had every reason to believe Olango was about to shoot them, and responded appropriately. Why did the officer with the Taser use that on Olango? Situations like this take place with blinding speed. He used it because that was what was in his hand at the moment. Remember, he was in the process of readying the Taser when Olango committed suicide by cop. Given enough time, he would almost certainly have preferred to use his handgun.
As the photo that begins this article suggests, one of the officers was preparing to use a Taser on Olango, and as is always the case, some have criticized the police for not somehow subduing Olango without harming him. In October, I noted:
But why didn’t they just tase him? From the CNN account, the officers didn’t have time. One was apparently keeping Olango covered with his handgun, because tasers don’t always work, and because Olango might not go along with their intentions. This is normal procedure in this kind of situation. These officers were 21-year veterans, obviously well experienced. They were skilled enough to try to take Olango with a Taser; he just didn’t give them the time to do it.
It’s can’t be said often enough: when you disobey police officer’s reasonable and lawful commands, and point anything that could reasonably be taken to be a firearm at them in a a classic shooter’s stance, it a virtual certainty you’re going to get shot. It is possible a given police officer might, for reasons even they can’t clearly articulate, have a feeling they don’t need to shoot, they can wait a few extra fractions of a second, but such police officers are rare indeed, and the law does not require such almost supernatural perceptions.
After what seems a reasonable span of time to complete an investigation, the local prosecutor has announced his decision. USA Today reports:
A suburban San Diego police officer won’t face criminal charges for fatally shooting a disturbed black man, a prosecutor announced Tuesday, saying the officer had reason to believe he was in danger when the man suddenly raised both hands and pointed what appeared to be a weapon but actually was an e-cigarette device.
The shooting of 38-year-old Alfred Olango last fall in El Cajon was a reasonable use of force, San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis announced.
‘The law recognizes police officers are often forced to make split-second decisions in circumstances that are tense, uncertain and rapidly evolving,’ Dumanis said.
Her office determined ‘the only reasonable conclusion was the officer’s actions were justified,’ she said.
It is also common for the relatives of people like Olango to be unable to accept the law and reality:
Olango’s father and others have said they doubted that the district attorney’s office could conduct an impartial investigation.
At a news conference, Richard Olango said he would continue to pursue legal action over his son’s shooting.
‘Nobody should think we are against the police,’ he said. ‘We need police but what we are against is the wrong way they are doing things.’
The Rev. Shane Harris of the civil rights group National Action Network called for a special prosecutor to investigate the killing.
‘The family’s going to get payback but we don’t just want payback, we want justice,’ Harris said. ‘We will continue to put this front and center.
Keeping in mind, always, I do not have access to all the evidence available in this case, and am judging based on media accounts–always a dangerous proposition–there appears to be no justification for the contention Dumanis is in any way biased and unable to properly apply the law. Such was manifestly not the case in Baltimore with Marilyn Mosby, but apparently not here.
In such cases, particularly in the current political climate, there is also a strong racial component. There is an implication that Olango’s death must be wrongful because he was black and died at the hands of police officers. Such sentiment is, of course, seldom invoked when black men die at the hands of other black men.
Rev. Harris is not referring to the rule of law—actual justice—but social justice. Given the facts of Olango’s death, there seems no doubt the officers were justified. It’s not even a close call. It’s a classic case of suicide by cop; the law is clear. Those having doubts may wish to visit my original article for a more in-depth explanation of the dynamics of these situations. It’s nothing like the movies.
Those seeking social justice raised one more interesting, but in many senses, irrelevant, issue:
An attorney who announced the family’s wrongful-death claim filings in November said they want to send a message that police across the nation must do better when dealing with people in mental crisis.
The El Cajon Police Department has specially trained officers to help defuse sometimes-volatile situations that involve people in the throes of mental illness. However, officials said none were available to go to the call involving Olango.
Does someone’s mental state have any bearing on the outcome in cases like this? Only if the officers have knowledge of it, and sufficient time to employ tactics that might help in dealing with it. Obviously, some circumstances might allow officers adept at dealing with the mentally disturbed to have a better outcome, but that is far from assured. Always, police officers must deal with people as they find them. If they are out of control, even suicidal, it doesn’t matter whether it is psychosis, drugs, or merely raging hatred that motivates them. The police must deal with their observed actions, not their unknown and mostly unknowable motivations. In many cases, this one included, officers are reacting, forced to deal with the time frame established by people like Olango.
Even if specially trained officers had been available to deal with Olango, they likely would have had no way to know of his mental health history, nor, if he behaved for them as he did for the two officers that did respond, any opportunity to apply any knowledge they had. Presented with the same circumstances, they would almost certainly have done the same, and been completely justified in so doing.
The conclusion of the October article applies equally today:
Hopefully the officers have sufficient time in to retire. Even if they are exonerated, as everything currently known suggests they must be, their careers are over. Even if they were willing to continue, BLM/social justice cractivists have painted targets on their backs. Their presence among their colleagues will endanger every police officer on the force. Their absence will make their community less safe, and make criminals more successful, which is just what criminals, and their progressive advocates, want.
When they don’t care about the facts, and about the consequences of their demands, that’s all that’s left, isn’t it?
I hope I’m wrong. I hope the officers may be able to complete their careers without abnormal danger to themselves and their colleagues. Perhaps President Trump may change the Department of Justice. It seems likely he will change the anti-police atmosphere so recklessly established and foolishly maintained by Barack Obama and his lackeys, but only time will tell.