MILLBRAE, Calif. (BCN) - The family of Chinedu Okobi, who was killed in a confrontation with San Mateo County Sheriff's deputies last October when they attempted to stop him for jaywalking, filed a lawsuit Friday against the county, alleging his wrongful death.
The family, including Okobi's sister, Facebook executive Ebele Okobi, is being represented by Adanta Pointer, an associate of civil rights attorney John Burris. Burris also has called for a moratorium on the use Tasers, as Okobi was the third death in the county involving the stun guns last year.
Okobi died after sheriff's Deputy Joshua Wang attempted to stop him for jaywalking in the 1400 block of El Camino Real on Oct. 3. San Mateo County District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe released video of the encounter in March, when he announced that the four deputies involved would not face criminal charges.
Until then, there had been a dispute between the sheriff's office and Okobi's family, who had been allowed to view the video earlier. In a long Facebook post in November, Ebele Okobi said the initial statement from the sheriff's office was a lie.
The sheriff's office had said that Okobi punched Wang before Wang used a Taser on him. But the release of the video in March revealed that information was false, that Wang had used a Taser first. After the video was released, the sheriff's office acknowledged the false statement.
The video showed Okobi crossing the street in an apparent effort to avoid Wang. Wang called for backup and as other deputies arrived the confrontation quickly escalated. The deputies tried to put him in a control hold and pushed him. Wang then deployed a Taser, knocking Okobi to the ground.
Okobi later got off the ground and punched Wang. Deputies continued to use force, including the Taser, batons and pepper spray, until Okobi stopped moving.
Sheriff's spokesperson Detective Rosemerry Blankswade said in March that sheriff's office investigators did not take statements from the deputies involved after the incident and waited to begin their internal
investigation until the district attorney's criminal investigation was complete.
The internal investigation, which will determine whether the officers acted within department policy, is still ongoing. The sheriff's office has declined to discuss the case, citing the pending litigation.
San Mateo County Deputy Counsel David Silberman declined to give an estimate for when the internal investigation would be complete and would not say whether he would release it at its conclusion, as required under a new transparency law that took effect in January.
Despite the lack of internal investigation, the deputies returned to duty weeks after Okobi's death, on Oct. 31, 2018. In fact, at least one of them, Sgt. David Weidner, reportedly was assigned to a contentious county Board of Supervisors meeting on Dec. 4, where Okobi's family and friends attended in protest.
"Of course my hair stood on end as I looked straight in the eyes of the person who killed my friend's brother," Kate Amoo-Gottfried, a friend of Ebele Okobi, said during the public comment period at the meeting.
"Was it your intention to have him on duty at the front of this building on the day we gathered to demand justice for Chinedu?" she said. "Is it the intention of the Sheriff to further traumatize, to further intimidate or to flaunt his own and his officers' impunity?"
Sheriff Carlos Bolanos declined to answer questions about whether it was appropriate to assign Weidner to a meeting where protests were expected as he remained under criminal investigation.