When Alfred Olango’s sister called 911 for police to assist him, she had no idea that the officers would kill him. But instead of helping Olango, who was reportedly unarmed and having a psychotic episode, officers fatally shot him, saying he was “acting erratically.”
The siblings were at a shopping center in El Cajon, California on Wednesday afternoon when Olango’s sister reached out to authorities. The 30-year-old man had a history of mental illness and was in the middle of a psychotic break. Police were informed of his mental health status, but when Olango didn’t follow commands, they shot him.
“I called three times for them to come help me,” she said. “Nobody came, they said it’s not priority.”
Accounts of what happened to Olango differ, but it’s clear that police knew Olango was in a state of crisis.
During a press conference on Wednesday, El Cajon Police Chief Jeff Davis told reporters that Olango was walking through traffic, “endangering not only himself, but motorists” when an officer arrived at the shopping center. The unnamed officer followed Olango and instructed him to show his concealed hands, but he refused to do so. According to Davis, a second officer arrived at the scene to help his colleague, and Olango continued to ignore commands before he suddenly pulled out an object from his pocket and assumed what they believed was a “shooting stance.” One officer fired his taser at Olango while the second opened fire.
Police say Olango’s hands weren’t in the air when the shots were fired. Video recorded on a witness’ cell phone confirms that, they reported.
But bystanders have offered slightly different accounts of what happened. While many confirmed that Olango wasn’t following orders, at least one said the officers also weren’t issuing commands.
“I didn’t hear any command ‘Halt’, ‘Stop’ or ‘I’ll shoot,’” one witness who identified himself as George told NBC 7. “I didn’t hear any command or yelling. I didn’t hear the man say anything. Next thing I see ‘Pow, pow, pow, pow, pow’ — five shots.”
Several people said Olango was having a seizure when the cop gunned him down. At least one said that Olango appeared to just be confused.
“The black male was up with his hands up like this, scared to death, not knowing which way he was gonna go,” he said. “And that’s the honest truth.”
Despite differing accounts, Olango’s sister believed police would help— not hurt — him. “I called you to help me but you killed my brother,” she cried out during a Facebook Live video.
Olango is the latest unarmed black man to be killed by police. His death comes on the heels of Keith Lamont Scott’s and Terence Crutcher’s fatal shootings earlier this month. But Olango was also one of countless people with mental illness killed by cops who were called to help them during psychotic breaks. Roughly half of all people killed by law enforcement suffer from at least one mental disorder.
In addition to police policies that stress shooting to kill instead of disarming people, officers are ill-prepared to help those with mental illness. Indeed, they often escalate crisis situations by drawing their weapons and shouting orders — disorienting the people they’re supposed to assist. Officers subsequently pull the trigger or use other forms of lethal force to subdue them.
Some cities, including San Diego, have adopted co-responder teams to help people going through moments of distress. Officers partner with mental health professionals on the scene, rather than operating on their own with little to no training. But California doesn’t require law enforcement to utilize those teams.
When Olango was killed on Wednesday, San Diego’s Psychiatric Emergency Response Team was not at the scene.