Crime & Justice

California DA finds police were justified in shooting death

File: A photo of Alfred Olango, 38, hangs at a makeshift memorial at the site where he was shot by police earlier this week on September 29, 2016 in El Cajon, California.
File: A photo of Alfred Olango, 38, hangs at a makeshift memorial at the site where he was shot by police earlier this week on September 29, 2016 in El Cajon, California.
David McNew/Getty Images

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No criminal charges will be filed against a police officer in a San Diego suburb in the shooting death of a mentally distressed black man that prosecutors found was justified, but the man's family says they won't be swayed in their search for justice.

The El Cajon officer had reason to believe he was in danger when 38-year-old Alfred Olango suddenly raised both hands and pointed what appeared to be a weapon but actually was an e-cigarette device at him, San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis said Tuesday. Her office determined "the only reasonable conclusion was the officer's actions were justified," she said.

Olango's father and others have said they doubted that the district attorney's office could conduct an impartial investigation.

At his own news conference after the district attorney's, 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."

Olango's shooting in September prompted days of protests and his relatives filed wrongful-death claims with the city, which usually precede lawsuits. They said Olango, a native of Uganda, had a breakdown after the death of a close friend.

At her earlier news conference, Dumanis acknowledged that the shooting had drawn international attention and protests.

"We are living in a time where the actions of police officers are under scrutiny more than ever, especially when it comes to police shootings," Dumanis said.

Olango was shot on Sept. 27 in the parking lot of a taco shop after police received 911 calls from his sister and others saying he was acting erratically and walking in traffic.

Dumanis said Olango repeatedly refused demands by an officer and pleas by his sister to take his hand out of his pocket.

When he finally did, cellphone and surveillance camera video released by authorities showed him in a shooting stance, with both hands around a metallic, cylindrical object that turned out to be a bulky e-cigarette vaping device.

Olango extended both arms "simulating the firing of a weapon directly at the officer," who ducked and fired four shots, Dumanis said.

The officer who was investigated and another officer armed with a Taser both fired within a minute of confronting Olango.

Olango's sister had described her brother as unbalanced in multiple 911 calls and asked that he be taken to a mental health facility.

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.

KPBS reporter Megan Burks was at the DA press conference on Tuesday. She spoke to Take Two's A Martinez for more on the announcement.



Jablon reported from Los Angeles.