The sister of an unarmed Black man who died last month after being repeatedly shocked with stun guns by San Mateo County sheriff’s deputies says unreleased video of the encounter refutes initial police accounts of what happened that day.
Chinedu Okobi, 36, died Oct. 3 after a confrontation with police in the San Francisco Bay Area city of Millbrae, Calif. In a statement, the sheriff’s office said deputies approached as Okobi was running in and out of traffic on a busy highway around 1 p.m. Okobi allegedly “immediately assaulted” the deputy who approached him, prompting the officer to call for two more deputies, who in turn fired their stun guns at the man three or four times.
The repeated shocks sent Okobi, a father of one, into cardiac arrest. He was rushed to the Mills-Peninsula Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead.
More than six weeks after the incident, Okobi’s family gathered Friday at District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe‘s office to watch a 30-minute composite video of the deadly encounter. Okobi’s sister, Ebele Okobi, who is Facebook‘s public policy director for Africa, said what the family essentially saw was video of their loved one “getting tortured to death in broad daylight.”
“They were shocking,” she wrote in a lengthy Facebook post Sunday. “They were shocking because they contradicted, in every single particular, the statement the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office released and to which San Mateo District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe referred in multiple news outlets after my brother’s murder. … They were shocking because District Attorney Wagstaffe has allowed statements that he knows to be false to remain in the public record.”
The grieving family had been asking to view the videos since the deadly encounter and has demanded that the sheriff’s office release the footage to the public. Wagstaffe is holding off on that for now but says his office expects to release a report, including all videos from the incident, by December.
“They asked to see the video, and in the normal course of events we would say no,” said Wagstaffe, according to The San Francisco Chronicle. “They are grieving and I made the decision to let them have a look at it. It was the right thing to do.”
In the video, Ebele Okobi says her brother is seen calmly walking down the street carrying bags when a deputy pulls up alongside him and shouts, telling him they need to question him. Chinedu Okobi appears to say something to the officer (it’s inaudible) before walking to the intersection, looking out for traffic and crossing the road. At no point does he attack the deputy like police claimed, she said.
The deputy calls for back up and speeds across the street to cut off Okobi. Another police car pulls out in front of Okobi, at which point he drops his bags and raises his hands in the air.
“They grab him, rip off his jacket. He tries to run, asking, ‘What’s wrong? What did I do?’” Ebele Okobi wrote. She said her brother was stun-gun shocked by another officer and fell to the ground with his hands still above his head.
“He is not fighting, just crying in pain,” she added. “I’ll never forget the visual of his hands, waving above his head, open, begging. He begs them to take the taser prongs off him. He tries to pull them off himself.”
Last month, Okobi revealed he brother had been struggling with mental illness and had seemingly stopped taking his medication months before his encounter with police.
Chinedu Okobi tried staggering to his knees after the repeated shocks, according to his sister, only for deputies to beat him with a baton and shock him again, when Okobi goes down.
Describing the video, Ebele Okobi writes, “At some point, my brother tries to run across the street, they chase him, they tase him, they pepper spray him, and they jump on top of him while he is prone.” The footage shows someone shout, “I see blood!” she writes, and then “it’s all over.”
The San Francisco Chronicle reports that Ebele Okobi and the family are now calling for an independent investigation into the incident and the deputies involved, who are identified as Alyssa Lorenzatti, Joshua Wang, Bryan Watt, John DeMartini, and Sgt. David Weidner. All five officers were placed on leave but have since returned to the job, a spokesman for the sheriff’s office said.
Ebele Okobi has also called on the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Department to issue an “immediate moratorium” on the use of stun guns, as well as the creation of an independent police review body.
Once the videos of the incident are released, Okobi said the public will see what a “miscarriage of justice” it was.
“They would see why we’re so appalled that police officers could do this,” she told The San Francisco Chronicle.