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Family Says Man Fatally Shot By El Cajon Police Was Grieving Loss Of A Friend

The El Cajon Police Department said the unarmed man, who at one point held a vape device at officers, was acting erratically and did not respond to commands.

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Family of the man fatally shot by police in El Cajon, California, said he was grieving the death of a friend and having a mental breakdown when they called 911 three times for help.

Gregory Bull / AP

Family and lawyers working with them on Thursday told reporters Alfred Olango had been unlawfully killed, and they questioned why it took officers so long to respond. Once officers did arrive, Olango — who was holding a vape device — was shot within about a minute.

Olango was grieving the death of a close friend, said his mother, Pamela Benge. He was having a mental breakdown, and contrary to some early reports, he did not have a chronic mental health problem, she said.

"Mental breakdown is not easy to control," she said. "He needed someone just to calm him down."

Attorney Dan Gilleon attributed the shooting to the officer's "cowboy mentality." Police arrived knowing a person was in mental distress, yet they failed to deescalate the situation, he said.

"Alfred was not mentally ill. He was going through a mental emergency, a mental breakdown because he had lost someone who he loved dearly. We all go through bad days," said Gilleon, who is white. "I don’t know if someone with my skin color would end up dead because they were having a bad day."

Olango's mother spoke passionately for justice and peace.

NBC 7 / Via nbcsandiego.com

The family had fled Uganda when Olango was a child, arriving in the US in 1991. Benge described life in a war zone, where they lived in fear. She had hoped for safety in the US, she said, but still, her son was killed.

"We wanted just to be safe," she said. "But now I ask the question, where should we go? I do not know."

Benge also called for people to focus on their shared humanity and implored protesters to speak up without causing damage or injury.

"I don’t want war," she said. "If you have seen war, you will never, ever want to step near where there is war."

Olango was killed on Tuesday, and a Facebook Live video captured the minutes after the shooting. A woman can be heard screaming, "You killed my brother. I called for help!"

Facebook: video.php

"Why couldn't you guys tase him," she said, distraught. "I told you he was sick, and you shot him."

The first call about a mentally unstable person came at 12:57 p.m. Officers did not arrive until 2:10 p.m., and though they had received training on dealing with mental health issues, they were not members of the department's specialized Psychiatric Emergency Response Team.

Olango was shot about a minute after officers arrived.

Police later said that members of the specialized team were working on another call at the time.

"At the specific time of this incident, that team was on a different radio call that was also PERT related. They were not immediately available," police said.

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Olango was unarmed, and his death sparked protest.

"Hands up, don't shoot!" -People chanting to officers. #NBC7

Olango worked as a chef in nearby San Diego, according to a Facebook page that appeared to belong to him.

Facebook

Friends and family members remembered Olango on social media.

"I come to find out last night my dear brother the police kill him in San Diego California and they hurt #RIP Big Homie I will miss you may God be with you," a friend wrote on Facebook. "RIP Alfred Olango I will never forget bro."

One woman told the Associated Press she had spent time with Olango in a refugee camp. Agnes Hassan also told the AP that Olango was well-educated, but mentally ill.

According to police, officers arrived after receiving a call from the man's sister that he was behaving erratically. The man did not comply with officers' commands, and he was shot, police said.

Officers responded to an erratic subject that ended with an officer involved shooting. We will post updates here as they are available.

El Cajon Police Chief Jeff Davis said Tuesday night that the man put his hands in his pants pockets and later pulled out an object, "placed both hands together on it and extended it towards the officers," and took a shooting stance. In response, one officer fired a Taser, while the officer who had the object pointed at him fired his gun.

El Cajon police on today's shooting: Man “refused multiple instructions" from officer and "concealed his hands in h… https://t.co/MfX4lez6ji

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Later on Tuesday, El Cajon Police Department released a statement giving a more detailed account of the incident:

The subject refused multiple instructions by the first officer on scene to remove his concealed hand from in his pocket. Because the subject did not comply the officer drew his firearm and pointed it at the subject while continuing to give him instructions to remove his hand from his pocket.

The second responding officer arrived on scene and immediately prepared to deploy a less lethal electronic control device while the other officer covered.

The subject paced back and forth while officers tried to talk to him. At one point, the subject rapidly drew an object from his front pants pocket, placed both hands together and extended them rapidly toward the officer taking up what appeared to be a shooting stance. At this time, the officer with the electronic control device discharged his weapon. Simultaneously, the officer with the firearm discharged his weapon several times, striking the subject.

Police also released this image from a witness video of the incident.

Via El Cajon Police Department

At a press conference, Rev. Shane Harris, a community leader and supporter of Olango's family, called for the release of the entire video. The still image released by police from the video was "cherry picked" by police to support their version of events, he said.

"The tape shows the whole picture, not just a part of a picture," Harris said.

The two officers who were involved in the incident have over 20 years in service, Davis said. They were placed on administrative leave, which is standard protocol.

On Wednesday, El Cajon Mayor Bill Wells confirmed one of them was Officer Richard Gonsalves, who made local headlines last month after a fellow officer sued him, alleging he created a hostile work environment after she complained about sexual harassment.

Olango had served time in a federal prison. In 2006, he pleaded guilty to being a felon in possession of a 9mm handgun. He was sentenced to at least three years in prison. In 1999, he had been convicted of receiving stolen property, and in 2001, he was convicted of selling controlled substances, according to court records.

Immigration officials said Thursday they twice attempted to deport Olango.

In a statement, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) said they tried to deport 38-year-old Alfred Olango in 2002 and 2009 following the separate criminal convictions, but were unable to because the Ugandan government refused to provide travel documents.

A 2003 court ruling found that ICE can’t hold foreign nationals set for deportation for more than six months if their removal can’t occur within the foreseeable future.

ICE said Olango arrived in the US as a refugee in 1991. His conviction of transporting and selling narcotics prompted the first deportation attempt. In 2009, he was returned to ICE custody after serving time in prison related to the firearms charge.

After his release, he reported to ICE up until February 2015, when he didn’t show up for an appointment.

Protests continued on Wednesday, and El Cajon's mayor said the city was supportive of residents' First Amendment rights.

Police in #elcajon Ca. face off with protesters over shooting death of #albertolango

"They’ve been loud. They’ve been angry at times," Wells told reporters Wednesday afternoon. "They have not broken any laws and there have been no arrests."

Because of El Cajon's large immigrant population, police train to be aware of cultural differences and spend time on community outreach, Wells said.

The video of the shooting would be released at some point by the district attorney's office in accordance with their procedures, he added.

"I saw a man who was distraught, who was acting in ways that he was in great pain," Wells said. "And I saw him get gunned down and killed.

"If it was my son, I would be devastated."

Claudia Koerner is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Los Angeles.

Contact Claudia Koerner at claudia.koerner@buzzfeed.com.

Michelle Broder Van Dyke is a reporter and night editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in Hawaii.

Contact Michelle Broder Van Dyke at michelle@buzzfeed.com.

Tasneem Nashrulla is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.

Contact Tasneem Nashrulla at tasneem.nashrulla@buzzfeed.com.

Adolfo Flores is a national security correspondent for BuzzFeed News and is based in Los Angeles. He focuses on immigration.

Contact Adolfo Flores at adolfo.flores@buzzfeed.com.

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