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Judge denies El Cajon officer’s attempt to dismiss lawsuit against him in fatal shooting

Richard Olango Abuka holds up a picture of his son Alfred Olango at a rally in El Cajon in 2016.
(Nelvin C. Cepeda, San Diego Union-Tribune)

A San Diego federal judge has ruled that the lawsuit against the El Cajon police officer who fatally shot Alfred Olango, an unarmed black man, last year can move forward.

U.S. District Judge Cynthia Bashant also on Friday dismissed the city from the case, saying there was not enough evidence to argue that policies or specific decisions made by the Police Department contributed to Olango’s death.

Olango’s father, Richard Olango Abuka, argues that Officer Richard Gonsalves used excessive and unreasonable force when he fired on Olango and that he also failed to request medical aid for the dying man, according to the lawsuit.

Olango, a 38-year-old Ugandan refugee, was having a mental breakdown the morning of Sept. 27, his sister said. She called 911 three times to ask for help and report his strange, paranoid behavior, which included wandering in traffic.

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Gonsalves found Olango pacing in the parking lot of the Broadway Village shopping center and confronted him. According to the officer, he commanded Olango to take his hands from his pockets, but Olango wouldn’t comply. Surveillance and cellphone video shows Olango suddenly pull an item from a pocket and point it toward the officer in what police have described as a shooting stance, prompting the officer to fire.

The item turned out to be a vaping device.

The district attorney’s office, which reviews all police shootings, determined the officer reasonably feared for his life and was legally justified in the shooting.

The judge ruled that a jury could find that the officer’s conduct “shocked the conscience” because the officer knew going into the call that Olango was having a mental breakdown, that he had not been threatening anyone and hadn’t committed a crime.

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The judge also ruled that, when viewing the allegations in the most favorable light to the plaintiffs — as required at this point in the case — it is “sufficient to conclude that — at the time Officer Gonsalves shot and killed Mr. Olango — it was clearly established (law) that someone who is unarmed, is not a threat to anyone, and had not committed any crime has the right not to be shot and killed.”

kristina.davis@sduniontribune.com

Davis writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.

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