Mother of slain California black man wants peaceful protests
EL CAJON, Calif. (AP) — The mother of an unarmed black man shot to death in a confrontation with police in a San Diego suburb this week called for peaceful protests Thursday and said her son did not deserve to die.
Alfred Olango "was a good, lovely young man," said the mother, Pamela Benge. "I wanted him to enjoy his daughter."
She said she and her family came to the U.S. from war-torn Uganda 25 years ago when Olango was a teen and just wanted to be safe.
"How painful it is to lose a loved one that you have embraced through struggling," Benge told reporters.
She mentioned similar shootings of black men around the country by police officers but said she never thought one of the shootings would directly affect her, calling on people who protest her son's killing to embrace non-violence.
"I am always for peace, I don't want war," she said.
Olango, 38, was shot and killed Tuesday by police in El Cajon after pulling out an electronic cigarette, known as a vape pen, from his pocket and pointing it at the police officer who fired, while a second officer stood nearby trying to subdue him with a stun gun, according to police. A family attorney said Olango was having an emotional breakdown over the recent death of his best friend.
Earlier Thursday, U.S. authorities confirmed they had tried twice to deport Olango, but his native Uganda refused to take him, resulting in his release.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement said Alfred Olango stopped reporting to officers in February 2015. Spokeswoman Virginia Kice did not know if officers tried to find him after that.
Olango arrived as a refugee in 1991 and was ordered deported in 2002 after being convicted on drug charges. He was released under a U.S. Supreme Court ruling barring detention of foreign nationals after six months if deportation is unlikely.
Immigration authorities took Olango into custody in 2009 after a firearms conviction in Colorado but were again unable to obtain travel documents.
John Sandweg, a former ICE director, said Olango could not be held for more than six months for failing to report to immigration authorities last year because it is not a crime.
"The officers knew that they were not going to be able to hold this guy," Sandweg said.
The investigation centers on a video taken by a bystander. Police have produced a single frame from the cellphone video to support their account, saying it shows Olango in a "shooting stance."
The photo shows Olango's hands clasped together and pointed directly at an officer who had assumed a similar posture with his gun a few feet away.
The vaping device in his hands had two components, a box about the size of a cellphone and a metallic cylinder that was 3 inches long and 1 inch wide. Police said the cylinder was pointed right at the officer.
Olango's relatives demanded the full video be released, according to Dan Gilleon, a lawyer who is working with the family.
"They're cherry-picking part of the video," Gilleon said. "This is exactly what police have said is unfair when only portions of video are released against them."
Mayor Bill Wells said he had seen the video and that it was not "tremendously complicated to figure out what happened."
After arriving in the U.S. years ago, Olango ran afoul of the law several times: selling cocaine, driving drunk, and illegally possessing a 9mm semi-automatic handgun when he was arrested in Colorado in 2005 with pot and ecstasy in his car, according to court records. He pleaded guilty in federal court and was sentenced to nearly four years for being a felon in possession of a gun.
The fatal shooting happened less than two weeks after black men were shot and killed by police in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and Charlotte, North Carolina, where violent protests broke out.
Experts said it was too early to conclude whether the California shooting was justified or could have been prevented.
Chuck Drago, a former Florida police chief who consults about police use of force, said that once Olango struck the shooting pose, officers would have had to react quickly if he drew an unknown object from his pocket.
"An officer doesn't have enough time to wait to determine if that's a gun in his hand," Drago said. "If a person is pointing something at an officer and he believes it's a gun and it is a gun and that officer doesn't have his gun out, that officer will lose that gunfight."
Police have not named the officers involved, though Wells said both were 21-year veterans and one was Officer Richard Gonsalves.
Gonsalves was demoted last year after allegations that he sexually harassed a lesbian colleague. Angry citizens had called for him to be fired.
El Cajon, a city of 100,000 people about 15 miles northeast of San Diego, has become home for many refugees fleeing Iraq and, more recently, Syria.