** Here’s how you can help: Call DA Wagstaffe to demand justice for Chinedu Okobi: (650) 363-4636. Office hours are M-F 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 pm PT**
Two days ago, I watched the police videos of my brother’s October 3 murder. They were shocking, not just because I sat next to my mother as we watched my little brother getting tortured to death in broad daylight while he begged “Someone, please help me!” and cried out “What did I do?”. They were shocking because they contradicted, in every single particular, the statement that the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Officereleased and to which San Mateo District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe referred in multiple news outlets after my brother’s murder. They were shocking because the District Attorney, his investigators and the San Mateo Sheriff’s Office have had access to these videos for weeks and have done nothing whatsoever to hold Sergeant David Weidner and Deputies John DeMartini, Alyssa Lorenzatti, Joshua Wang and Bryan Watt accountable. They were shocking because District Attorney Wagstaffe has allowed statements that he knows to be false to remain in the public record. They were shocking because my brother’s mental illness had absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with his killing.
The video of my brother’s murder starts out with a dash cam view of my brother, walking calmly down the sidewalk, carrying bags. It’s notable, because the view shows other people walking-it’s broad daylight, so there is nothing particularly interesting or sinister about a man walking down the street, holding bags, heading somewhere. He is dressed normally, and doesn’t look disheveled or as if he’s in crisis.
The deputy driving the car says something like who is this guy, and then speeds up to get alongside my brother.
Lie #1: According to the San Mateo County Sheriff’s office and District Attorney Wagstaffe’s statements, my brother was “running in and out of traffic”. My brother was not walking in and out of traffic when the deputy noticed him. He was walking on the sidewalk, as people do.
Based upon the audio of the first deputy who made contact with my brother, that deputy was also not responding to any calls about anyone “running in and out of traffic”, so there was no basis to stop my brother other than what that deputy saw. The video shows the deputy was driving down the street, noticed my brother walking down the sidewalk from about a block away, and decided to stop him.
When the deputy pulls up alongside my brother, he shouts at him and asks him what he’s doing, tells him he needs to question him. My brother quietly answers (it’s inaudible), and then walks to the intersection, looks out for traffic, and crosses the street.
At that point, the deputy calls in a Code 3. A Code 3 means “Emergency, send back-up.”.
Lie #2: At no point was the deputy in danger, there was nothing about a man crossing the street at an intersection that was an emergency. He was in a car, and my brother had crossed the street away from him. The deputy, within 2 minutes of having seen my brother, has dramatically escalated a situation that didn’t need to even be a situation and has then lied about being in danger and there being an emergency, which he knows will result in other deputies coming in hot.
The next cut of the video shows my brother, as he has crossed to the other side of the street. The first deputy speeds across the street to cut him off, another police car speeds up in front of my brother. Deputy Alyssa Lorenzatti charges out of the car. At this point, my brother drops his bags and puts his arms up in the air. Deputy Lorenzatti rushes into him, he twists to the side and moves his hand up to avoid being hit or to avoid inadvertently hitting her.
They grab him, rip off his jacket. He tries to run, asking, “What’s wrong? What did I do?” That’s when Deputy Joshua Wang tased him. My brother falls in the street, on his back, crying. He has the presence of mind to keep his hands in the air, even as Deputy Wang holds the taser and continuously sends volts of electricity through his prone body. He is not fighting, just crying in pain. I will never forget the visual of his hands, waving above his head, open, begging. He begs them to take the taser prongs off of him. He tries to pull them off himself.
Lie #3: My brother never attacked any of the deputies. He did not assault anyone. My baby brother, as big as he was, didn’t even defend himself.
The deputies keep shouting at him to turn over on his stomach. They electrocute him again. He screams. At no point does anyone tell him why he was stopped, what they think he has done, whether or not he is under arrest. When there is a break in the torture, my brother staggers to his knees, tries to run away. A deputy pulls out his baton, strikes, they tase him again. My brother goes down. At some point, my brother tries to run across the street, they chase him, they tase him, they pepper spray him, they jump on top of him while he is prone. There is audio of Sergeant Weidner saying “Stay on top of him, stay on top of him, stay on top of him.” Someone asks if my brother is still breathing. Sergeant Weidner keeps cheering them on, telling them to stay on him until they have crushed the life out of him. Someone shouts “I see blood!” Then it’s over.
My brother has clearly died, right there on the sidewalk, in broad daylight. One of the deputies immediately declares it a crime scene. A deputy asks another, solicitously, if he wants water. Killing my brother is thirsty work, apparently. What not a single one of those deputies does is give my brother CPR. None of them tries to help him. They express no shock or remorse at the fact of his death. It’s all very casual. They prop his body upright, like an over-full trash bag. His head hangs forward, airways occluded. No one follows even the most basic life-saving procedures. There is no mercy or compassion for my little brother. If they had killed a dog the way they killed my brother, there would be outrage.
Lie #4: My brother died on the scene, not on the way to the hospital, not at the hospital. They didn’t even pretend to try to revive him.
The dash cam audio captures the ham-handed development of their narrative. If it were a movie with a happy ending, it would be funny, it’s so hapless. Someone says something about my brother having a lot of drugs in him. Someone adds that all of the drugs are why my brother fought them so hard. Meanwhile, the only thing my brother was fighting was death. And those deputies made sure that he lost.
Now that I have seen the video, I am so angry. It was always wrong, it was always a tragedy, but now, knowing that there wasn’t even the pretense of police stopping him “for his own safety”, seeing the way they tortured him to death for simply walking down the sidewalk-this is a crime.
These deputies have been trained in the use of tasers (and if they have not, then it is criminally negligent that they were allowed to use lethal weapons without training) and they used them repeatedly on my brother, then held him down until he died, then failed to offer any medical assistance. They knew that their actions were likely to result in my brother’s death. And they did it anyway.
I am angry at myself for believing any of the lie put out by the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office. I knew that my brother didn’t “attack” or “assault” deputies, but because of his mental illness, I believed it was possible that he might have been in crisis and acting erratically. None of that would have justified him being killed, but there isn’t even a reason, at all, that my brother was stopped. My brother’s medical history has nothing at all to do with why he was stopped and killed.
I am angry at myself for believing that District Attorney Wagstaffe was acting as an impartial defender of the public. He had access to this evidence, yet he released a statement that he knew or should have known to be false. If he had not seen any video, he knew it existed, and he should have seen it before releasing a statement that he claimed was factual. If he made the statement in error, it is an egregious, unconscionable error with material impact on due process, and one that an elected servant of the people with his 40+ years of experience in office should not ever make.
My brother deserves the same consideration and commitment to justice from District Attorney Wagstaffe that any homicide victim would receive. The fact that the perpetrators were sworn to protect and serve means that they should be held to an even higher standard, that they have violated the public trust. District Attorney Wagstaffe and the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Department should be eager to demonstrate that the actions of Sergeant David Weidner and Deputies John DeMartini, Alyssa Lorenzatti, Joshua Wang and Bryan Watt do not reflect the standards of San Mateo County or of the San Mateo County Sheriff’s force, by disavowing them unequivocally.
Our family and our community demand justice. Citizens, especially those who are unarmed and who have committed no crime, should not be tortured to death with impunity by those sworn to protect and serve.
–We call on District Attorney Wagstaffe to release the videos that we were shown to my family to the public, exactly as they were shown to us-it has been 45 days since my brother was killed, and Assembly Bill 748 requires that they be released to the public within 45 days.
–We call on District Attorney Wagstaffe to release recordings of any calls made to 911 prior to any deputy contact with my brother, per earlier statements that the sheriffs were responding to him walking in and out of traffic. If they do not exist, we call on the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office and District Attorney Wagstaffe to inform the public and to retract the earlier false statements.
–We call on District Attorney Wagstaffe to update the public on the status of the investigation, and justify the wait for a charging decision.
–We call on District Attorney Wagstaffe and the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office to remove the appearance of collusion and retract the false statement that was made on October 3, claiming that my brother “immediately assaulted” the deputy, as it has been shown to be false by the police’s own evidence.
–We call on District Attorney Wagstaffe to investigate the deputies’ previous records-of the five deputies, four were transfers to San Mateo County, and the other has not been on the force up to a year. Transfers are correlated with a higher percentage of police misconduct.
–We call on District Attorney Wagstaffe to inform the public of any police misconduct records for any of the five deputies, per Senate Bill 1421. The public deserves to know whether Sergeant David Weidner or Deputies John DeMartini, Alyssa Lorenzatti, Joshua Wang or Bryan Watt had any previous incidents that precipitated their transfers, and which should have been taken into consideration before they were given free reign to kill citizens in San Mateo County.
–We call on the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Department to inform the public about taser use policies. San Mateo County Sheriff’s taser policies state:
1. Tasers are not to be used if/when officers also utilize restraint techniques that will impair respiration.
2. Tasers are not to be used on a fleeing subject, when there are no factors justifying deployment other than the subject is fleeing
3. Tasers may be used to “overcome active resistance from dangerous, violent, or potentially violent subjects who are lawfully arrested or subject to lawful arrest, or who demonstrate intent to cause immediate harm to individuals other than themselves.”
The video demonstrates a violation of every single one of these policies.
–We call for the immediate sanction of Sergeant David Weidner and Deputies John DeMartini, Alyssa Lorenzatti, Joshua Wang and Bryan Watt to demonstrate that San Mateo County will not tolerate the misuse of tasers by law enforcement. This is the third such death in San Mateo County in only ten months, and District Attorney Wagstaffe cannot continue to give law enforcement a license to kill unarmed citizens.
–We call for the immediate release of the taser records, which will allow us to know how many times my brother was electrocuted, by whom, and for how long.
–We call on San Mateo County to issue an immediate moratorium on the use of tasers, given that my brother was the third unarmed person in 10 months that law enforcement has electrocuted to death in San Mateo County.
–We call on the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors to refuse to approve any budget requests for the purchase of tasers until it conducts a public/expert review process, beginning in December of this year on the impact of tasers, and institutes an independent review body to determine whether tasers should be carried by law enforcement in San Mateo County at all.
–We call for the creation of a permanent independent police review body, as there are in San Francisco and San Jose counties, to investigate officer-involved killings and use of force. Independence builds trust that the process is fair and unbiased, a trust that this investigation has stolen from my family.
No mother should ever have to watch her child get tortured to death, and especially not by people whose duty is to protect and serve. And no District Attorney, elected by the people to uphold the law and seek justice on behalf of the people, should sanction the extra-judicial torture and killing of unarmed citizens who have committed no crime.