by Lee Houskeeper
“We couldn’t protect Chinedu in life, but we will be absolutely relentless about seeking justice and change in the aftermath of his death. My brother’s life is over – those five deputies saw to that – but his legacy is just beginning.” – Chinedu Okobe’s sister Ebele Okobi
Oakland – At a press conference May 31, civil rights attorney John Burris and the family of Chinedu Okobi announced the filing of a federal lawsuit against the county of San Mateo and Sheriff Deputies Weidner, DeMartini, Lorenzatti, Wang and Watt for unlawfully racially profiling, detaining, repeatedly tasing, pepper-spraying and killing the unarmed 36-year-old father and college graduate.
On the afternoon of Oct. 3, 2018, Mr. Okobi was doing nothing more than minding his business and walking down the street when Deputy Wang decided to racially profile Mr. Okobi for looking out of place while walking along the sidewalk in downtown Millbrae, California. Mr. Okobi had committed no crimes, was not on probation or parole, and had no outstanding wants or warrants.
Nevertheless, Deputy Wang decided to stalk, detain and eventually violently attack Mr. Okobi for supposedly walking in and out of traffic. Videotape of the incident proves Mr. Okobi begged for his life shortly before and during the time he was repeatedly tased and then pepper-sprayed by Deputy Wang. Deputies DeMartini, Lorenzatti, Wang and Watt joined in the attack by continuously compressing Mr. Okobi’s chest against the ground until the unarmed man fell unconscious. Tragically, Mr. Okobi never regained consciousness.
John Burris says that “it’s appalling that a man can be lawfully walking on the sidewalk, and within a matter of minutes is dead, largely because, as an African American man, he didn’t fit the neighborhood.” The officers’ conduct is unacceptable. “Although the San Mateo District Attorney’s Office and the Sheriff’s Department are unwilling to hold the deputies accountable for racially profiling, stalking, repeatedly tasing and pepper-spraying Chinedu Okobi to death, I will!”
In light of the fact that within the 10 months preceding Mr. Okobi’s death, two other people also died after being tased to death by police in San Mateo County, John Burris renews his demands that all law enforcement agencies in the county, including the Sheriff’s Department, immediately stop using tasers until they receive additional training on how to use them appropriately.
Burris further demands the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Department enact policies and train its officers to stop engaging in racial profiling, such as what happened with Mr. Okobi. Burris laments: “We have seen far too often how these unlawful instances of racial profiling can turn deadly for the profiled victim. Mr. Okobi is yet another tragic example of history repeating itself.”
Statement by Ebele Okobi
Earlier this week, I represented Facebook in Norway at the Oslo Freedom Forum. The Forum annually convenes human rights defenders, artists and tech representatives from around the world to discuss ways to advance human rights and to protect vulnerable communities.
We heard from dozens of people shining the light on human rights abuses.
Tajikistan’s Sharofiddin Gadoev told of being kidnapped and tortured by law enforcement, Nury Turkel talked about China’s mass detention and extra-judicial killings of the Uighur in China, José Luis Martin Chito Gascon described law enforcement executions in the Philippines.
All of the stories were linked by impunity. By law enforcement and political leaders being able to violate civil rights, torture and kill citizens with absolutely no consequences. By there being no recourse in the law for victims.
My brother, Chinedu Okobi, was electrocuted to death, summarily executed, by Sgt. David Weidner and Deputies John DeMartini, Alyssa Lorenzatti, Joshua Wang and Bryan Watt for walking down the sidewalk. The killing was cruel and completely avoidable.
District Attorney Wagstaffe’s refusal to charge any of the officers, and Sheriff Bolanos’ refusal to properly investigate the killing or to impose any sanctions at all, shock the conscience. Worse, they collectively send the message that San Mateo County law enforcement wields absolute control over life or death of citizens and that they are answerable to no one.
District Attorney Wagstaffe and Sheriff Bolanos have consistently refused to protect and defend human rights in San Mateo County, not only in my brother’s case, but in the cases of Warren Ragudo and Ramzi Saad.
This is why we are announcing today that we plan to file suit against San Mateo County and against the individual officers for the killing of my brother. We are seeking justice in the civil courts, where the criminal justice system has failed.
We are demanding, once more, that San Mateo County’s elected officials impose a moratorium on tasers, that they provide mandatory and effective training for officers on de-escalation, that they institute independent review for police killings.
This week in Oslo reminded me that power gives up nothing without a fight, and also that it is we, as citizens, who must insist on not allowing impunity for elected officials and those who are meant to protect and serve.
Tyranny ends where accountability begins.
Contact Lee Houskeeper of San Francisco Stories at Newsservice@aol.com.