Borough Leaders Vow To Continue Work With Community After Osagie Investigation Report
After District Attorney Bernie Cantorna announced charges would not be filed against the State College police officers involved in the shooting death of Osaze Osagie. Borough Manager Tom Fountaine said on Wednesday that the borough and its police department will continue to work with the community on improving responses to mental health and race-related issues.
Those conversations have been a focal point of community discussions — and tensions — since Osagie’s death following a confrontation with three State College police officers who arrived at his Old Boalsburg Road apartment on March 20 to serve a mental health warrant. Cantorna concluded, following a state police investigation, that officers were justified in their use of force when Osagie brandished a knife and rushed at officers in a narrow hallway. One officer deployed a taser that was ineffective before another fired three shots that struck and killed Osagie, a 29-year-old black man who struggled with mental illness and had sent text messages indicating he might harm himself and others.
At an April 15 Borough Council meeting, borough leaders said a task force was being formed to closely examine the response to individuals with mental illness and the relationship between borough police and communities of color.
The group will focus specifically on “mental health services and systems, including police response,” Council President Evan Myers said. It also will build on the work of the Task Force on Policing and Communities of Color, which brought together more than 30 representatives of the State College and Penn State community and issued a 2016 report and recommendations on the relationship between local law enforcement and underrepresented racial and ethnic groups.
The task force also will provide recommendations on the feasibility of an office of inclusion and equity within the borough.
“We will continue to collaborate with a wide variety of diverse, local partners to address community concerns as we seek strategies and programs designed to enhance the professional services provided by the women and men of the SCPD,” Fountaine said in a statement. “We will also work closely with the task force being formed to identify ways of improving the response to mental health needs in Centre County as well as ways to enhance the relationships and increase trust between police and communities of color. Additional information about this task force will be released at a later date.”
Fountaine also expressed sympathy for the Osagie family and everyone in the community who has been affected by his death.
“The Osagie family continues to be in the thoughts and prayers of the State College Borough. Our sincere sympathy goes out to the entire family during this difficult time,” Fountaine said. “In addition to the Osagie family, we also recognize that this has impacted the broader State College community and many persons in our community are mourning the loss of Osaze’s life.
“We also have the officers of the State College Police Department, and their families, in our thoughts. While our officers have always had a strong relationship with the community, we have worked hard in recent years to enhance this relationship. As we move forward to strengthen our relationships and address issues of race, inclusion, diversity and mental health, we continue to be proud of our officers and service that they provide.”
State College Mayor Don Hahn, meanwhile, told StateCollege.com’s partner publication Onward State on Wednesday night that the community needs to fight apathy.
“I’m remembering the words of Martin Luther King Jr. that the greatest tragedy is not the vitriol and words of bad people, but the silence of good people,” Hahn said. “Interestingly enough, the greatest challenge we’re going to have in the future is apathy. In this town, it’s apathy we need to fight.”
Hahn spoke to a reporter while observing a rally of demonstrators demanding justice for Osagie. Among the speakers at the protest was Osagie’s mother, Iyun, who said the fatal shooting was a wrongful death.
“It is a fact: Police making wrong choices cut off my son’s life,” she said. “They cannot now turn around and exonerate themselves from their own choices. That is unjust.”
It was the second protest of the day following Cantorna’s announcement. At about 2 p.m., protestors took to East College Avenue, blocking traffic for more than an hour.
The ACLU of Pennsylvania released a statement on Wednesday afternoon taking issue with Cantorna’s conclusions and questioning the investigation.
“The information shared today by the district attorney is based on the officers’ explanation of the incident. There are no independent witnesses, and there is no video evidence,” Reggie Shuford executive director of the ACLU of PA said. “We learned this week that a police officer lied about the incident that led to the death of Oscar Grant in California in 2009 and that another officer lied about the incident that led to the death of Sandra Bland in Texas in 2015. Without full transparency and incontrovertible evidence that confirms an officer’s story, it is completely reasonable for people in the community to be skeptical about the stories told by law enforcement.”
Shuford criticized Cantorna’s decision not to release the names of the officers involved, saying he “is allowing police to kill with impunity and anonymity.” He also said the officers knew Osagie’s mental health situation and that it was “unconscionable” that a mental health professional was not with them.
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