El Cajon Protests: Civil Rights and Business Rights


Analysis by Reporting San Diego.

Oct 3, 2016 (San Diego)  The demonstrations happened after the death of Alfred Olango. He died after his sister called 911 when his brother had a mental breakdown. The 911 system took 3 calls and 50 minutes to dispatch officers, for a 5150 (psychiatric emergency) call. No Psychiatric Emergency Response Team (PERT) was dispatched however, as protocol suggests. When the first officer responded, he had a taser in hand as he approached Olango. Officer Richard Gonsalves responded as a backup to his partner. He is the officer that opened fire within 15 seconds of arrival, as conveyed by the videos released by the department.

These videos were released after the demonstrations became violent, on the night of the 29. This was in an effort to calm passions. For the most part demonstrations, at times have been rather loud but peaceful. Most demonstrations\ vigils have occurred, near Mollison and Broadway where the killing happened. At times upwards of 200 people have been involved. There have been about 20 arrests total, but for the most part protesters have walked up and down the streets, demanding transparency from the police department, and justice.

The police has responded to all this with helicopters, SWAT teams, and riot teams. This has been a militarized response. One has to ask how this is perceived by protesters and neighbors, as well as business owners. From social media postings neighbors are tired of it. Many of the protesters see this as a provocation. So there is a clash of rights, protests are never convenient.

Clash of civil rights and merchant rights

Demonstrations do disrupt businesses as usual. They are not supposed to be convenient. If you are going to pressure for change, this is part of it. If you cause enough pain, then change will happen. This was the logic for the year long Montgomery bus boycott. To be fair to the view of business owners, these demonstrations have had real costs to business owners, residents, and protesters. There is an important detail here. We have seen rumors that people are coming from everywhere but El Cajon. Not all protesters are from outside El Cajon.

We have met more than a few that are local residents. They are coming out to demand transparency. This is important, because there is always agendas at play, we will deal with that bellow. But there is always the impression that none of the local residents could do this, or want to do this becuase of the damage this causes to the local economy.  That said, businesses have lost a lot of businesses. There are reasons for this, and there could be consequences politically.

The City asked businesses to close of the weekend.

This is a critical point. The city asked businesses to close down. There were clear calculations to this tactic, partly  the lack of food and water should discourage continuing protests. Also this will diminish the number of people in the streets, and potentially clashes. The authorities also did that to protect property, so both life and property are covered, and it also means that if you are not there to buy food, there is none, you are there as part of the protest. It makes it easier for officers. This though will have some real effects. Businesses are losing income. This could drive any merchant on the edge out of business. This will also have a cascade effect on the economy.

Another reality is that many of these businesses have employees making minimum wage. These employees have lost daily wages, and more than a few will have trouble making rent. The decision for many families will be on what bills to pay. Some are so closed to the edge that a few might end up in the streets. This is a real cascade effect that also transfers to spending money on goods and services. The reality is that the local economy will get a hit.

Arrest of protesters

We also learned from sources that police decided to arrest about 20 people, who were peacefully assembled near Los Panchos taco shop (it was less than 20). Whether this was a violation of their first amendment rights is a good question, for lawyers to decide. Reporting San Diego contacted both the authorities In El Cajon, and the Sherriffs Department and the American Civil Liberties Union for comment.

We are including the video link as posted in Facebook

We are also including the police statement on these events in full. We believe that giving both sides their voice and views  allows for a fuller picture. At no time is the picture on the ground that simple.

Protest Update

Post Date: 10/02/2016 12:07 PM


TYPE OF INCIDENT: Protest Update

DATE AND TIME OCCURRED: 10/1/16 to 10/2/16

LOCATION OF OCCURRENCE: 800 Broadway, El Cajon


Protest update for Saturday night into Sunday morning.


During the evening a vehicle was stopped for a traffic infraction leaving the protest area of 800 Broadway. As a result of the traffic stop the driver, who was under 21, was arrested for driving under the influence in violation of 23140CVC.  The two passengers in the vehicle were also arrested for 647(f) PC, drunk in public. 


Following the above arrest a small group of protesters gathered near 800 Broadway. A fight broke out between a few of the protesters and it was reported that someone was leaving to get a gun. Sensing this shift in the demeanor of the crowd and out of concern for community safety, officers declared an unlawful assembly and ordered the group to disperse. The majority of the group left at this time, however some remained. Officers spoke to those who remand and they promised to leave. Eventually, it became apparent the remaining protesters were not planning to leave. They were again notified of the unlawful assembly and ordered to disperse; however they did not make any attempt to leave.14 adults were arrested, 12 for a misdemeanor violation of 409 PC – Failing to depart an unlawful assembly, 1 for an arrest warrant, and 1 for public intoxication.

Prepared by: Lieutenant Rob Ransweiler                                   Date/Time: 10/2/16 @ 12:00 pm

Review by: J. Davis, CHIEF OF POLICE

This brings us also to another complexity to these situations, We had, conveniently I know two people try to set agendas for “their side,” and in effect hurt their side. We had a Trump supporter who was chased around after using certain language that caused that response. For the record, there were two other Trump supporters that we met that were there to support the cause of police transparency. None did anything to them. But what this young man did later on, in interviews was activate biases on both sides. We saw plenty of social media posts showing this as proof that Liberals do not believe in free speech, and plenty of the other side, showing him as proof that ALL Trump supporters are racists, Nothing could be further from the truth. People are complex and you cannot judge a book by it’s cover, though we humans tend to do that. 

The second was on the police transparency side. While the first one did find out where the cameras were, and we were not rolling, she found herself in the middle of a Fox 5 newscast. This woman was interviewed after she was hit by a Sheriff’s beanbag on the night of the 29. She claimed that she was at the 7-11 minding her own business, and was just attacked out of the blue. Well, she was on the front lines of the demonstration facing off with Sheriff’s Officers. But her video interview made it to RT News, which also has it’s own agenda. 

Both in effect hurt their cause with people who otherwise would be more sympathetic. They also hurt themselves, becuase as reporters find out about these matters, we will not believe them. They got their 15 minutes of fame though and were a textbook example of how difficult it is to tell what is going on in a fast moving dynamic situation. For the record, all sides face this problem when facing social unrest or a fast breaking news story and all sides in these situations want to set an agenda, and a story line. Our job is to look beyond that.

We are not mentioning names either becuase both already got their 15 minutes. No use in giving them more attention. 


Events of this type always come wrapped with decisions that are driven by both politics and expediency.

Elections are next month. This event may cost seats to city hall incumbents. Chambers of Commerce might push for changes. While Mayor Bill Wells is not up for reelection, he might lose council members that he has a working relationship with. This also has placed his city and administration on the international stage. We have seen news stories in both the British and Mexican press for example. There were also protests in Uganda, where Olango originally hails from.

For the record, looking into his past, is also part of that agenda setting. It helps to distract from the present issue, and hopefully to prove that he was a bad apple. This is not just Olango, We see this with every police shooting. That said, Olango also helped with those who have an agenda regarding immigration, since he was a refugee who came to this country as a child.  He has had a few issues with law enforcement, and ICE should have deported him twice.

This incident has not placed the city in the best of light. But the politics also have to be seen as internal to the police department.

Anytime there is an officer involved shooting there are calls from the community for transparency. The release of the videos, while welcomed by many activists, and not others, have raised many questions regarding the response and the lack of the PERT team. Law enforcement tends to circle the wagons, instead of asking what happened and why is it that people do not trust us?

 There is also the issue of who Officer Gonsalves is. The city has been sued now twice for his behavior, and sexting to a female officer. The question of why he was demoted but allowed to remain in the force is now loudly asked as well. It is not just the record with Olango, but also the record with Gonsalves. Both raise questions. This will also cost the city millions in a wrongful death suit. Though, Chief Jeff Davis was brought on board after the sexting events, so he had to take command of a department that has problems. Perhaps this will allow the new chief to implement necessary changes, instead of just closing in ranks.

Regardless, he will have a real challenge, while Olango’s father has already called for his resignation. Though that is never a surprise in this situations.

There are other questions that have been raised. San Diego was one of the first counties in the United States to implement PERT Teams. this is not the first time that officers have responded without calling on these teams, or them not being available. We have also seen deaths at San Diego County Jail. These have involved mentally ill patients. So this brings a whole different policy questions to the fore.

The issue is partly one of training. Officers were dispatched and knew this was a psychiatric call. They were also told no weapons were involved. The bigger picture is that Officers are responding to calls for which they are ill prepared, and they are the mental health care system of last resort. There are people who should not be in the streets, but after the mental health system was shattered in the 1980s, many did end up in the streets. This places officers in situations that they are not fully trained or equipped for. Moreover, jails, and prison systems, are forced to manage patients for whom this is the worst possible environment. Yes, we did not use the word inmate. A few jail systems, such as the LA County Jail System, in the reforms they are implementing, are including a psychiatric wing. 

There is an obvious conflict between the rights of the protesters, granted by the First Amendment, and those of business owners and residents. The balance is not easy to achieve. The militarized response and arrests is also bringing more attention to the issue, and it is easy to compare this to Ferguson, two years on. But it also is bringing something else to the fore. Cedric Alexander has pointed out a need to change attitudes within law enforcement.

The current paradigm is one of war. Officers treat their job and mission as that of a soldier, patrolling a combat zone. This mindset leads to officers patrolling local neighborhoods, where all become enemies. Alexander currently serves as the Director for Public Safety for Dekalb County, Georgia,  and was the past president of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives. He also was part of the team that put out the recommendations in Policing in the 21st Century.

He wrote in The New Guardians: “My hope and my intention are to move law enforcement beyond its present perceived pervasive military and adversarial model, in which officers are compelled to operate in our communities—and to be perceived by those communities—as agents of a hostile invasion and occupation. The “new” alternative I offer is, in fact, as old as Plato and his Republic. As that Greek philosopher envisioned them, “the Guardians” were not just defenders and protectors of the Republic, they were also its guides and leaders. The training Plato prescribed for the Guardians would enable this combination of roles. They were to be physically conditioned, made swift and strong. They were to be mentally cultivated, exposed to the best education the community could give them.”

Alexander and others have pointed to Camden, New Jersey as an example. Not only are Officer Involved shootings way down, but the department has implemented community policing where officers walk the beat and know residents. This has changed perceptions (or rather started to) of the police. This was once the model used in San Diego by many local agencies, but budgetary issues have led to more patrols in vehicles and far less community policing. Our hope is that this shooting, in a series nationally, will lead the way for a new way of policing. What we are currently living through is not sustainable, since trust in institutions like the Police is down.

This is a known issue and the National Institute of Justice puts it in very stark terms: “Racial and ethnic minority perceptions that the police lack lawfulness and legitimacy, based largely on their interactions with the police, can lead to distrust of the police. Distrust of police has serious consequences. It undermines the legitimacy of law enforcement, and without legitimacy police lose their ability and authority to function effectively.”

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1 reply

  1. Excellent post; linking to it in our roundup.

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