The national consciousness has already focused on issues of lethal police violence in a big way, especially after recent shootings in Tulsa, Oklahoma and Charlotte, North Carolina, both of which spurred a massive amount of public outcry and protest. Now, a police department in Southern California faces a similar situation. Officers of the department fatally shot Alfred Olango, an unarmed black man reportedly in the midst of a mental episode, and there's bystander video of the incident. So when will El Cajon police release the Olango shooting video?
Here's what is known about the incident so far, according to subsequent reporting. Olango, 30, was fatally shot after his sister called the police to help deal with his episode ― the precise nature of what happened to him is not yet clear, although at least one witness to the incident has claimed he was suffering from a seizure.
When the police arrived, according to the department's narrative of events, Olango ignored multiple orders to take his hands out of his pockets, and when he ultimately did, he had an object in his hands, which he pointed at the police in a "shooting stance." A still frame taken from a bystander's phone video shows the moment the police are referring to, but the department hasn't released the full footage yet, nor stated what the object in his hands was, even though police chief Jeff Davis admitted that Olango was unarmed.
There's an undeniably inflammatory angle to all this, by virtue of what's been alleged about Olango's death ― that he was shot in the midst of a major mental health event, that he was completely unarmed at the time, and that his sister called the police to help him, not kill him, as she can be heard saying in witness video of the shooting's aftermath. The decision to release a single image from the video to bolster the police department's account of the incident while withholding the actual footage from the public is almost assured to spur outcry and protest. Nonetheless, Davis urged for the community:
Now is the time for calm. Now is the time to allow the investigation to shed light on this event and we plan to be open and transparent within the rules of the law.
There were also allegations and rumors in the aftermath of the shooting that officers seized cellphones with video of what happened. The department has flatly denied this, tweeting that no phones were confiscated.
As for when the department might loosen its grip on this essential footage, that's not entirely clear. In the case of the shooting death of Keith Lamont Scott in Charlotte, the local police department clung to the footage doggedly for days before finally releasing it. And even then, it didn't release everything it had — only what police chief Kerr Putney characterized as "relevant."
As The Washington Post details, as a matter of public policy, the footage will be released eventually. At least, that's what San Diego District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis has promised, having agreed this year with county police chiefs to release such videos, but only after the completion of police investigations. Hopefully, the department will make the footage public sooner rather than later.