A familiar scene around the nation – an unarmed black man shot and killed by police – has come to San Diego County.

El Cajon police shot and killed Alfred Olango Tuesday. Police have said Olango was behaving erratically, and that he pointed an object at officers while assuming a “shooting stance.”

El Cajon Police Chief Jeff Davis has said his office, and the San Diego County district attorney’s office, will both investigate the shooting.

As that process plays out, here’s what we know about when an officer can legally shoot someone, how the DA approaches the release of videos and other evidence in high-profile cases and how San Diego officers who’ve shot and killed people have been handled in previous cases.

When Police Can Kill

Though police shootings often generate an enormous amount of questions and controversy, prosecutors’ decisions on when to criminally charge an officer are pretty straightforward.

Two Supreme Court decisions from the 1980s set a very high bar for when police officers can be held criminally responsible for killing someone.

We Stand Up for You. Will You Stand Up for Us?

Here’s how we described the standard last year:

Law enforcement officers can use deadly force if they believe there’s an imminent threat of deadly force against them or someone else. Crucially, the standard is taken from what a so-called “reasonable officer” would believe at the time, not with the benefit of hindsight.

A recent Supreme Court case also made it harder to sue police in civil court for excessive use of force when they shoot suspects who are fleeing.

Those lawsuits can only go forward if it’s “beyond debate” that a shooting was unreasonable.

Less than 24 hours after the El Cajon shooting, police released a still shot from a cellphone video taken at the scene. They say it shows Olango taking a “shooting stance” toward officers.

This isn’t the first time law enforcement officers have simultaneously warned the public that videos and other evidence might not tell the whole story – while releasing evidence that does reinforce officers’ contention that a shooting was justified and that officers involved were reasonable in feeling threatened.

After a 2015 shooting in which a San Diego Police Department officer shot and killed an unarmed man, SDPD and the district attorney resisted releasing private security camera footage that captured the shooting. A federal court ultimately ruled the video should be made public following a lawsuit from Voice of San Diego and others.

In releasing the footage of that shooting, District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis cautioned that it didn’t tell the whole story. At the same time, though, she released a carefully curated package of evidence that backed up law enforcement’s claims that the shooting was justified.

How the DA Handles Shooting Videos

Dumanis at one point had a policy only to release videos of shootings when they appeared as evidence in court. She reversed herself earlier this year and said she would release more videos publicly because “we recognize the times have changed.”

Less than two months ago, Dumanis announced a protocol for when she will release videos that depict officer-involved shootings to the public.

Any release will only happen after her office has completed its investigation, and after it notifies the department of the officer involved. Once that happens, only the pieces of an investigation deemed relevant by the DA will be released.

What is deemed “relevant” by the DA will ultimately shape how the public understands the case. When Dumanis released video of the April 2015 shooting – again, after being compelled to do so by a court – she also included information she deemed relevant to understanding that shooting. That included YouTube videos of people handling so-called butterfly knives, though the victim in the shooting was not carrying a knife when he was killed.

What’s Happened to San Diego Officers Who Kill

When the district attorney completes a review of an officer-involved shooting case, she writes a letter laying out her decision whether to charge the officer involved with a crime.

In 155 officer-involved shooting cases between 2005 and 2015, the DA did not find a single instance in which a police officer should be charged, according to a database compiled by inewsource.

According to the Union-Tribune, only six prosecutions of officers have taken place “in the hundreds of shootings in the county since 1980.”

In the April 2015 shooting, the SDPD officer involved has said in court documents that on top of not facing any criminal charges, he also did not face any discipline or even receive any feedback or criticism following the shooting.

Just because an officer-involved shooting does not meet the high bar for criminal prosecution, of course, does not mean that officers always do everything right.

But the DA’s office stays away from weighing in on whether an officer could have done something differently, or whether police departments should change their protocols in order to avoid more shootings. Its reviews of officer-involved shootings do not “examine such issues as compliance with the policies and procedures of any law enforcement agency, ways to improve training, or any issues related to civil liability,” according to the DA’s website.

In December 2014, the DA released a report with statistics from all officer-involved shooting reviews from 1993-2012, 358 cases in all.

The 15-page report includes statistics like the age and race of the officers and victims involved, but does not say anything about officer discipline or whether any were prosecuted for crimes related to the shootings.

    This article relates to: Bonnie Dumanis, Police, Police Body Cameras, Public Safety

    Written by Sara Libby

    Sara Libby is VOSD’s managing editor. She oversees VOSD’s newsroom and its content. You can reach her at sara.libby@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.325.0526.

    Joan Lockwood
    Joan Lockwood

    We, in San Diego, have a large military community and many of these guys and gals go for action jobs.  They are familiar with some aspects of the culture from their military service.  

    The military training is quite different than a police department that deals with citizens and constituents rather than the enemy.  Its a simplification but remains accurate.  Recruits from the services are taught to shoot to kill, period.  Police are not, unless their safety (or others) is threatened. 

    Most police do not shoot someone ever.  But some do and that should be examined by someone other than Ms Dumanis office.  Investigations taking a year are not tolerable for anyone involved and should be conducted within 3 months but at most 6 months.

    It seems more a issue of public forgetting easily Ms Dumanis.  This office needs an investigation itself.  But this would take 6 years and her office will have all new staff (which is needed) and no one would be prosecuted

    From my experience with the DA's office there is such abuse of public trust as to be heartbreaking to every San Diego citizens as well as good police officers.. 

    Jorge Serrano
    Jorge Serrano

    Today's commentary by John Whitehead, a Constitutional lawyer for the Rutherford Institute, is on point. It is too long to post here, we must make do with an excerpt.


    [G]rowing numbers of unarmed people are … being shot and killed for just standing a certain way, or moving a certain way, or holding something—anything—that police could misinterpret to be a gun, or igniting some … fear in a police officer’s mind that has nothing to do with an actual threat to their safety. …
    Killed for holding a cell phone. Police in Arizona shot a man who was running away from U.S. Marshals after he refused to drop … a cellphone.
    Killed for behaving oddly and holding a baseball bat. … Chicago police shot and killed 19-year-old college student Quintonio LeGrier who had reportedly been experiencing mental health problems and was carrying a baseball bat around the apartment where he and his father lived.
    Killed for opening the front door. Bettie Jones, who lived on the floor below LeGrier, was also fatally shot … when she attempted to open the front door for police.
    Killed for being a child in a car pursued by police. Jeremy David Mardis, six years old and autistic, died after being shot multiple times by Louisiana police …. Police opened fire on the car—driven by Jeremy’s father, Chris Few, who was also shot—and then allegedly lied…. Body camera footage refuted the police’s claims.
    Killed for attacking police with a metal spoon. In Alabama, police shot and killed a 50-year-old man who reportedly charged a police officer while holding “a large metal spoon in a threatening manner”.Killed for running in an aggressive manner holding a tree branch. Georgia police shot and killed a 47-year-old man wearing only shorts and tennis shoes who, when first encountered, was sitting in the woods against a tree, only to start running towards police holding a stick in an “aggressive manner”.Killed for crawling around naked. Atlanta police shot and killed an unarmed man who was reported to have been “acting deranged, knocking on doors, crawling around on the ground naked”. …Killed for hunching over in a defensive posture. Responding to a domestic trouble call, … officers with the Baltimore County police forced their way inside a home where … three officers opened fire on an unarmed 41-year-old man who was hunched over in a defensive posture. The man was killed in front of his two young daughters and their mother. Killed because a police officer accidentally pulled out his gun instead of his taser. An Oklahoma man … was shot and killed after a 73-year-old reserve deputy inadvertently fired his gun instead of his taser. …
    Killed for wearing dark pants and a basketball jersey. Donnell Thompson, a mentally disabled 27-year-old described as gentle and shy, was shot and killed after police … encountered him lying motionless in a neighborhood yard. Police “only” opened fire with an M4 rifle after Thompson first failed to respond to their flash-bang grenades and then started running after being hit by foam bullets.
    Killed for telling police you lawfully own a firearm. … Philando Castile was shot and killed during a routine traffic stop allegedly over a broken tail light. As he was reaching for his license and registration, Castile explained to police that he had a  conceal-and-carry permit. That’s all it took for police to shoot Castile four times in the presence of his girlfriend and her four-year-old daughter.
    Killed for leaving. … Deravis Caine Rogers was killed after starting to drive away from an apartment complex … as a police officer pulled up. Despite the fact that the police officer had no reason to believe Rogers was a threat or was suspected of any illegal activity, the officer fired into Rogers’ … window.
    Killed for driving while deaf. In North Carolina, a state trooper shot and killed 29-year-old Daniel K. Harris—who was deaf —after Harris initially failed to pull over during a traffic stop.
    Killed for being homeless. Los Angeles police shot an unarmed homeless man after he failed to stop riding his bicycle and then proceeded to run from police.
    Killed for being old and brandishing a shoehorn. John Wrana, a 95-year-old World War II veteran, … was shot and killed by police who mistook the shoehorn in his hand for a two-foot-long machete …
    Killed for having your car break down on the road. Terence Crutcher, unarmed and black, was shot and killed by Oklahoma police after his car broke down on the side of the road. Crutcher was shot in the back while walking towards his car with his hands up.
    Killed for holding a garden hose. California police were ordered to pay $6.5 million after they opened fire on a man holding a garden hose, believing it to be a gun. Douglas Zerby was shot 12 times and pronounced dead on the scene.
    Shot seven times for peeing outdoors. Eighteen-year-old Keivon Young was shot … from behind while urinating outdoors. … Allegedly officers mistook Young—5'4", 135 lbs. … —for a 6' tall, 200 lb. murder suspect ….
    Now you can make all kinds of excuses to justify these shootings, and in fact that’s exactly what you’ll hear from politicians, police unions, law enforcement officials and individuals who are more than happy to march in lockstep with the police. However, to suggest that a good citizen is a compliant citizen and that obedience will save us from the police state is not only recklessly irresponsible, but it is also deluded and out of touch with reality, because in the American police state, compliance is no longer enough.
    Frankly, as these incidents make clear, the only truly compliant, submissive and obedient citizen in a police state is a dead one.

    The full commentary with links is available at https://www.rutherford.org/publications_resources/john_whiteheads_commentary/all_the_ways_you_can_comply_and_still_die_during_an_encounter_with_police

    Martha Sullivan
    Martha Sullivan subscribermember

    RE this week's police killing of an unarmed black man in mental crisis ...

    United States Court of Appeals,Ninth Circuit.

    Carl BRYAN, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Brian MacPHERSON; Coronado Police Department; City of Coronado, a municipal corporation, Defendants-Appellants.

    No. 08-55622.

    Decided: June 18, 2010

    "Officer MacPherson now argues that use of the taser was justified because he believed Bryan may have been mentally ill and thus subject to detention. To the contrary: if Officer MacPherson believed Bryan was mentally disturbed he should have made greater effort to take control of the situation through less intrusive means. As we have held, '[t]he problems posed by, and thus the tactics to be employed against, an unarmed, emotionally distraught individual who is creating a disturbance or resisting arrest are ordinarily different from those involved in law enforcement efforts to subdue an armed and dangerous criminal who has recently committed a serious offense.' Deorle, 272 F.3d at 1282-83.

    "Although we have refused to create two tracks of excessive force analysis, one for the mentally ill and one for serious criminals, we have found that even 'when an emotionally disturbed individual is ‘acting out’ and inviting officers to use deadly force to subdue him, the governmental interest in using such force is diminished by the fact that the officers are confronted ․ with a mentally ill individual.' Id. at 1283.

    "The same reasoning applies to intermediate levels of force. A mentally ill individual is in need of a doctor, not a jail cell, and in the usual case-where such an individual is neither a threat to himself nor to anyone else-the government's interest in deploying force to detain him is not as substantial as its interest in deploying that force to apprehend a dangerous criminal.

    "Moreover, the purpose of detaining a mentally ill individual is not to punish him, but to help him. The government has an important interest in providing assistance to a person in need of psychiatric care; thus, the use of force that may be justified by that interest necessarily differs both in degree and in kind from the use of force that would be justified against a person who has committed a crime or who poses a threat to the community. Thus, whether Officer MacPherson believed that Bryan had committed a variety of nonviolent misdemeanors or that Bryan was mentally ill, this Graham factor does not support the deployment of an intermediate level of force."


    W_W_W_ subscribermember

    But for the action or lack of action of the citizen, the law inforcement officer would have not used their weapon.

    When a law enforcement officer gives a verbal command, the citizen needs to immediately comply and if possible comply before the order needs to be given a second time.  It is not up to the citizen to determine if the order should have been given. 

    Jesse Arroyo
    Jesse Arroyo

    The above scenario can only apply if the citizen has the ability to comprehend and control their actions. In the case of a mentally ill person they have lost the ability to process information correctly. Forcing them to follow commands would be like trying to force a blind person to see or a deaf person to hear.

    When a family member calls for help fearing for a family member's well being the situation needs to be handled with care, not force. What kind of justice would it be if the family member was sitting on a bridge, severely depressed, contemplating suicide, and an officer raises his voice commands him to get off the bridge immediately or be tased or shot. That will not save him. That will provoke him and put his life at greater risk. Statistics show many mentally ill are killed by police. PERT needs to handle these types of calls.

    Jesse Arroyo
    Jesse Arroyo

    The call was a 5150 call and should have been handled by a Psychiatric Emergency Response Team (PERT). ECPD Chief said a PERT would have been dispatched to the scene if one was available. A PERT would have handled the issue as a crisis situation and would have worked to deescalate the victim from his erratic emotional state making him much less likely to act out against law enforcement. The video shows the victim backing up until he cannot back up anymore. The officer moves in on him. The victim then moves laterally side to side as trying to avoid conflict but the officer moves laterally to counter. It is then that the victim, not of sound mind and unarmed, takes the stance of a shooter. It appears that rather than deescalate the situation they escalated it further. The report shows mentally ill are killed at significantly high rates. We need more thoroufh training for first responders on how to deescalate a crisis situation and we need more PERT staff. Had PERT been there would have been a better chance that the man would have lived and got the help he needed. No deaths, no protests, no riots, no grieving family. We must find better ways to handle these 5150 calls and preserve human life.

    Jorge Serrano
    Jorge Serrano

    The entrance tests for police select candidates specifically of below-average intelligence, then those candidates are trained to empty their pistols into any perceived threat. These thugs-in-blue proudly joke about their victims who "choose suicide by cop". The police even refuse requests to take preventive action, insisting that they can only act once a crime has been committed. This is not what peace-keepers do: it is how an occupying force behaves.

    George Washington, Samuel Adams, and Thomas Jefferson have all warned posterity that, in order to reclaim our rights as citizens, we might have to take up arms against our own corrupt government. That time could be very soon. Before it comes to that, however, we should consider a statewide initiative to hold trigger-happy cops liable to their victims in civil actions and to hold the police departments answerable directly to the people for their bullying.

    By setting the will of the people into black-letter, perhaps in the state constitution itself, crooks like Dumanis would not be able to sweep all this institutionalized murder under the carpet. 

    bgetzel subscriber

    How about training the cops to select the least force to subdue someone who is a threatening figure? At a minimum they have the following at their disposal: stun guns, tear gas, bean bag guns, nets, etc. I clearly remember a case when an old, disturbed, homeless man stood on a freeway screaming an waving a garden hoe. He clearly had to be taken into custody, but the cops chose to shoot and kill him, rather than use another, less lethal form of force. Another blatent example - the guy who stole a tank and drove it down the street and then a highway. He got stuck on a median. The cops chose to unbolt the the hatch to the tank, and shoot into it, thereby killing the man. Why couldn't they throw tear gas in the tank instead. There are numerous other examples of cops not chosing a non-lethal type of force when it was available. 

    Local city councils need to hold hearings about this issue. Detailed guidelines need to be established with regard to the use of deadly force. The police need to be able to do their job, and be relatively safe in the process. But they also must be given guidance on when it is reasonable to use deadly force!

    Matty Azure
    Matty Azure subscriber

    155 - 0

    The "0" will always be an 0.


    Gutless Bonnie

    richard brick
    richard brick subscribermember

    @Matty Azure You are 100% correct. I know that is the reason for the anthem protest by Kapernic and other sports players. There is no accountability for the police, kill someone, not to worry nothing will be done. 

    My understanding is that the cop who shot this unarmed man had been a Sgt booted down to patrolmen status after 20 some years on the force. He was sued by a fellow officer for sexual harassment and he lost. Soon after the guilty verdict he proceeded to continue his harassment of the same officer. She sued him again and I hope the ECPD. That case is pending.

    You have an officer who should have been fired for making not so stable decisions at his work place. He is on patrol and confronts a not so stable man, result death to an unarmed civilian.

    Laws should be passed that requires cops to carry their own liability insurance. The sexual harassment case lost by the officer  was paid by the cities insurance. Who pays for this insurance? Why we the taxpayers pay for it. And who is going to pay for the civil suit soon to come from this shooting? You guess!

    Notice the picture that ECPD was so helpful getting to the media. Makes it look like the guy is pointing a gun when in fact is a vapor pipe. Both cops in this picture are 10 feet from the unarmed civilian, yet one draws his taser the other draws his gun and fires. Why was one cop in fear for his life and the other is not?. 

    John H Borja
    John H Borja subscriber

    The bottom line is that our country has given carte blanche to our police officers to shoot first and ask questions later. And, the color, the appearance, the body stance, and general attitude of the "perpetrator" or presumed "perpetrator" is considered before a pre-emptive strike against a citizen. Yes, yes there are those extraordinary circumstances when impunitive force must be applied. What we are viewing today are among many circumstances, random acts of violence and violence when negotiation has not been applied or sufficiently applied. Under all normal circumstances deadly and final force must be avoided. Our "cowboy" mentality, in many of these cases, cannot coexist in today's world. Our public safety officers cannot be left to decide whether a "burka" or a cap worn backwards or language or a person's color is the basis to begin the mental "check down" toward deadly force. The safety of others must be considered that are in close proximity to the event. But, death cannot be the first impulse by our police officers.

    One policeman may have used sufficient force with a taser gun. The other used a gun. 

    Death was the result. No resolution of the original problem, just the death penalty. That doesn't work in El Cajon, Dallas, Ferguson, Baton Rouge, Detroit, Chicago, et al. 

    Population control may still be popular in certain areas of the America, but most of America should assert the rights provided in our Constitution. The writers of that document, I believe, did not fully understand the implications of what they wrote nor did the leaders that validated that document. But, here we are today, hundreds of years later pressing for adherence to it because some in our society want to circumvent it. 

       All of us want and demand a safe neighborhood. We want to walk with our loved ones at any hour of the day or night free from fear.  But, this cannot be the privilege of only one group of people. It must be the privilege of everyone in America. 

       Is the job of a policeperson very, very difficult? Yes. We all depend on that person to provide us our freedom. That is not a small job. So, we ask our police department to understand our community and be fully trained to provide safety to us all. We cannot solve all of our problems by first opting for deadly force.