Lawyer Brian Dunn, flanked by Olango's family members and other legal counsel
The family of Alfred Olango, an unarmed black man who was shot and killed by El Cajon police in September, have filed a second claim against the police department, accusing the officers involved of excessive force and negligence. Such actions, to which the department has 45 days to respond, are typically precursors to a lawsuit, which counsel for the family has promised is forthcoming.
"We're here for one reason only — we don't want another family to go through this," attorney Brian Dunn told media assembled at a Thursday afternoon (November 3) press conference. "We are seeking reforms in not only the way that the El Cajon Police Department responds to mental crises, but every police department....
"This case occurred because a family member of Alfred Olango wanted to help him," Dunn continued. "She called for help, and because of a series of tactical decisions she did not get the help she desired and instead had the most horrific experience imaginable."
Olango's sister Lucy, who filed a separate claim last month, made three calls to 911 over a 50-minute period requesting assistance for her brother, who she said at the time was "not acting like himself."
Instead of sending a unit trained in dealing with psychiatric emergencies, police sent officers including Richard Gonsalves, a former sergeant who'd been demoted in the wake of sexual harassment accusations. While a second officer prepared to deploy a taser to subdue Olango, Gonsalves fired five fatal shots when Olango assumed what was described by police as a "shooting stance" while brandishing an unidentified object, later identified as an e-cigarette.
"Alfred Olango isn't the only individual with a hashtag before his name, but what we're doing today is trying to ensure justice so we won't see the continuing flow of hashtags like we've seen in 2016," said attorney Rodney Diggs, referring to a spate of police killings that gained widespread media attention over the past year. Diggs represents Olango's father, who expects to file a third claim against the department in the coming weeks.
"This lawsuit isn't just going to be an Olango family lawsuit," added Dan Gilleon, counsel for Olango's sister. "These are going to be the public's documents, you're going to have a right to see them. And this is going to shed a light on what happened....
"Clearly, this was negligence," Gilleon continued. "You've been told multiple times that he needs help, and you arrive on the scene, pull your gun out and confront the man like you're a cowboy — what do you think is going to happen?"
The latest claim, filed by Olango's widow, Tania Rozier, and the couple's two children, accuses the police department of unconstitutional policies and practices, and says the department failed to properly train its officers to handle mental health crises. Olango, the family said after the incident, was distraught and grieving over the recent death of a close friend.
Local National Action Network leader Shane Harris, meanwhile, promised more demonstrations against the department, promising to rally "thousands" in the coming weeks.
"People think that we jump on this stuff," Harris said, acknowledging criticism lodged earlier in the day by the Center for Urban Renewal and Education, which has accused Al Sharpton and the Network of "seeking to race-bait and divide." "We're not ambulance chasers, we're the ambulance.
"The long fight for justice is just beginning,'' Harris continued, repeating earlier calls for an independent investigation into the shooting and the firing of Gonsalves. "And you can best believe that I'm going to keep running my mouth until I see these issues of policing — police must know that if they hold misconduct, they will pay the price."
After the 45-day period passes for police to respond to claims made by the family, the department will have six months to file a lawsuit. Lawyers for all parties said they did not have a set amount of damages they were seeking, nor had they decided on the best venue in which to pursue a case.