Authorities on Friday released cellphone and surveillance video showing the fatal police shooting of an unarmed black man, hoping to quell growing questions about the incident that has led to violent protests.
The video provides more context about the moments before the fatal encounter on Tuesday, though officials said their investigation remains in its early stages and that evidence is still being gathered.
The cellphone video shows the man, Alfred Olango, weaving back and forth in a parking lot as a police officer confronted him. The video shows the officer, identified as Richard Gonsalves, following Olango with his gun drawn and pointing the weapon at the man.
Olango then briefly clasps his hands together and points them at Gonsalves, who opens fire. Olango’s sister, who had called police earlier to say her brother was acting strangely, is heard wailing nearby.
A second video from a fast-food restaurant security camera shows Gonsalves following Olango through the parking lot. At some point, Olango starts walking rapidly toward the officer, who appears to back up. For a few seconds, Gonsalves and Olango appear to be jockeying with each other. A second officer, Josh McDaniel, appears holding a Taser, and then Gonsalves fires. At least four shots are heard. The angle of this video makes it difficult to see exactly what Olango was doing.
El Cajon Police Chief Jeff Davis said the department decided to release the video in hopes of giving the public a better sense of what happened and for the well-being of the community. He said the move was also influenced by three nights of unrest in El Cajon.
Protesters and others have been calling on authorities to release the video, after the public was provided with only a single freeze-frame of the confrontation that shows Olango, 38, clasping an object, his arms raised toward an officer.
Until now, authorities had said they could not release the video during an active investigation, in keeping with an agreement drawn up by San Diego County law enforcement agencies. The policy was created in August in an attempt to balance public transparency with the needs of investigators to collect evidence.
San Diego County Dist. Atty. Bonnie Dumanis said officials released the video while the investigation was ongoing “in the interest of transparency, to keep folks calm and protected here in El Cajon.”
(Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)
“We have not formed any conclusion yet, there is still information that we are waiting to see,” she said. “Video evidence is one piece of the evidence that is out there.”
Community activists and family members had said that the still shot was misleading without context.
Dan Gilleon, an attorney for the Olango family, accused authorities of litigating the case in the media by choosing to “cherry pick” an image.
“It took 15 minutes for them to respond and about a minute for them to kill him,” Gilleon said. “They know they’re in trouble.”
The past week has roiled the working-class city of 100,000, and on Thursday evening the protests turned violent. At a main intersection of downtown El Cajon, dozens of protesters blocked vehicles and broke car windows, according to the city’s Police Department. One motorcycle rider was knocked off of his vehicle, while a San Diego Union-Tribune photographer was attacked and then robbed of his camera.
Ordered to disperse by police, the crowd began throwing glass bottles, bricks and rocks at officers, who responded with pepper-spray balls. Several people were arrested on suspicion of unlawful assembly, police said. One was arrested for throwing a brick at an officer’s head, Davis said.
Earlier Thursday, Olango’s mother, Pamela Benge, had called for unity and peaceful demonstrations.
“I don’t want war,” Benge, a Ugandan refugee, told reporters. “If you have seen war, you will never ever, ever want to step near.” Family members say Olango had been suffering from a mental breakdown Tuesday because of the death of a friend.
U.S. Immigration officials said Thursday that two earlier attempts to deport Olango for drug and firearms convictions had been ignored by the Ugandan government.
El Cajon Mayor Bill Wells, who viewed video of the shooting earlier in the week, said Thursday the footage was enlightening, adding that he didn’t think it was “tremendously complicated to figure out what happened.”
Gonsalves is a 21-year department veteran who was demoted last year after a subordinate officer sued him and the city, alleging sexual harassment, according to city officials and court documents.
Bystander videos of shootings and other police actions are becoming common, going viral on social media. But there is no standard policy for when – or if – authorities will release videos in their possession. Many police departments have said they do not intend to make footage from body cameras public.
Authorities have been under increasing pressure to raise the bar in terms of accountability at a time when the public has grown to expect to see any known videos. Protests after several high-profile police shootings this year drove authorities to reverse course on their initial refusal to release footage.
When word of the video release of the El Cajon shooting made its way around the city, a business leader urged the downtown district to shut down early and remain closed until Sunday. A weekly car show and concert were also canceled.
“No one has any idea of what may happen next,” Daryl R. Priest, president of an organization of El Cajon businesses, said in a statement. “It’s my hope that nothing happens, but we all need to exercise an abundance of caution.”
Gilleon, the Olango family attorney, said the video does not change his view that the officer didn’t need to open fire.
He was also puzzled at why officials released the tape a day after they said they would wait until the probe was completed.
Times staff writer Richard Winton and David Hernandez of the San Diego Union-Tribune contributed to this report.
5:07 p.m.: Updated with reaction from family attorney.
3:47 p.m. Updated with more reaction.
3:18 p.m.: Updated with further details from video.
3:02 p.m. Updated with video.
12:50 p.m.: This article was updated with El Cajon police announcing plans to release video of the fatal shooting.
This article was originally published at 7:30 a.m.