After a six day jury trial, a unanimous 12-0 San Diego Superior Court jury found, on July 31, 2019, that El Cajon Police Officer Richard Gonsalves was not negligent in the shooting death of Alfred Olango. Olango’s family attorneys argued that Gonsalves should have used different tactics when he interacted with Olango before Olango pulled an object from his pocket, which appeared to be a gun, and, using a typical shooting stance, pointed it at the head of Gonsalves. Out of a legitimate fear for his life, Gonsalves shot Olango four times, ceasing his fire when Olango fell to the ground and the threat was over. As it turned out, the object Olango pulled from his pocket was a vaping device, with a body about the size of a cell phone and a barrel-like mouthpiece protrusion. Olango’s sister, plaintiff Lucy Olango, was represented at trial by James Mitchell of the Gilleon Law Firm in San Diego. She was suing for negligent infliction of emotional distress because she saw Olango being shot. Olango’s wife and daughter, plaintiffs Taina Rozier and Chare Rozier-Olango were represented at trial by Brian Dunn of the Cochran Law Firm of Los Angeles. They sued for wrongful death based on negligence.
On September 27, 2016, Gonsalves got a dispatch call about a man acting strangely and walking into traffic (i.e., Alfred Olango). Olango’s sister met with Gonsalves and his partner and indicated where she last saw Olango. Upon encountering Olango in a strip mall parking lot, Gonsalves saw Olango put his right hand in his right front pants pocket as he was walking toward Gonsalves. The size of the bulge in Alfred’s pocket caused Gonsalves to believe Alfred had something in his pocket other than just his hand. Despite Gonsalves’ repeated requests, Alfred refused to remove his hand from his pocket and tried to get away from Gonsalves. Gonsalves followed Alfred until Alfred eventually pulled a “vape” electronic smoking device resembling a gun out of his pocket and pointed it directly at Gonsalves while in a “shooting stance.” Believing Alfred was pointing a gun at his head, Gonsalves fired four shots in rapid succession killing Alfred. From start to finish, the encounter lasted less than two minutes. The final moments of the incident were caught on video. Alfred’s sister, Lucy Olango, saw the shooting. Near the end of the encounter, Gonsalves’ partner arrived at the scene and fired his taser nearly simultaneously with Gonsalves firing his gun, also in response to Olango pulling his right hand out of his right pocket and pointing the object at Gonsalves. Gonsalves’ partner testified at trial that if he had pulled his gun instead of his taser, he also would have fired his gun because he actually believed Gonsalves was being shot by Olango. We produced an expert toxicologist who told the jury Olango had consumed massive amounts of cocaine on the day of the shooting and all the symptoms he displayed that day, including impaired judgment and walking into traffic, were due to severe cocaine use. The plaintiffs’ main argument at trial was that because Olango was acting strangely, he should have been dealt with more as a person with a mental disability, and certain other pre-shooting tactics should have been used by Gonsalves. The jury disagreed, and said that just because plaintiffs suggested that other reasonable options could have been used does not meant that the options Gonsalves chose to use were also not reasonable as well.