January 18, 2017 / 11:58 PM / 3 years ago

Father files suit against police in California for son's fatal shooting

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The father of Alfred Olango, an unarmed black man shot to death by police in Southern California last year, has filed a lawsuit against the officer involved and his department, accusing them of unjustly killing his son who was suffering from a mental breakdown.

A photo of Alfred Olango, who was shot by El Cajon police, is seen at a makeshift memorial at the parking lot where he was shot in El Cajon, California, U.S. September 29, 2016. REUTERS/Patrick T. Fallon

The slaying last September of Ugandan-born Alfred Olango, 38, in the San Diego suburb of El Cajon sparked several days of street protests after video of the deadly incident emerged online.

It was also one of a spate of deaths of black men at the hands of law enforcement across the country over the past three years that have sparked a national debate over racial bias in the U.S. criminal justice system.

The civil suit, filed on Friday in federal court in San Diego, came three days after local prosecutors announced that the officer who opened fire, Richard Gonsalves, would not be criminally charged for the shooting.

San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis said last week the use of deadly force against Olango, who was shot four times in the parking lot of a taco stand, was reasonable given that Olango was pointing what appeared to be a gun at police. The object he was clutching turned out to be a “vaping” pipe.

The civil complaint, which names Gonsalves and the El Cajon Police Department as defendants, alleges that Olango was deprived of his constitutional right to due process when he was killed.

The police officers who confronted Olango had been dispatched to the scene after his sister had called 911 emergency operators to report he was having a mental breakdown at the shopping center, the lawsuit said.

“Before arriving on the scene, defendant Richard Gonsalves knew decedent Alfred Olango was having a mental crisis because dispatch had coded the call as ‘5150’ pursuant to (state law) which allows a peace officer to detain a person with a ‘mental health disorder,’” the lawsuit said.

Gonsalves should have either waited for members of a special psychiatric emergency response team to arrive or sought to have de-escalated the situation instead of drawing his firearm, the lawsuit said.

Police have said Olango ignored commands to remove his hand from his pocket before pulling out the vaping device and assuming a “shooting stance.”

El Cajon city officials were not immediately available to comment on the lawsuit, brought by Richard Olango Abuka, seeking unspecified damages for the loss of his son.

Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles; Editing by Steve Gorman and Alan Crosby

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