Public outcry in San Mateo County over use of Tasers after four people died last year
REDWOOD CITY, Calif. (KTVU) - An overflow crowd packed into a special meeting on Monday held by the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors to discuss the use of Tasers by law enforcement, especially after four people died in officer-involved shootings last year.
Ahead of the meeting, protestors gathered in the courtyard of the Hall of Justice in Redwood City.
They sang, rallied and called on law enforcement to release videos and 911 calls in the case of Chinedu Okobi, a man who died after being tased by a deputy.
"It's too late for my brother," said his sister, Ebele Okobi. "It's too late for my mother's son. But the things that we do today can prevent this from happening to other families."
"He's a son...a brother," his mother, Amaka Okobi, added. She became emotional as she spoke about her son who leaves behind a 12 year old daughter.
On October 3, 2018, deputies say Okobi was running in and out of traffic on El Camino Real in Millbrae and that he had assaulted a deputy. But Okobi's sister said videos she's seen of the incident from a dashcam, surveillance cameras, and cell phones dispute law enforcement's version of what happened.
"At no point do you see him attacking anyone. He wasn't a threat. He wasn't a physical threat," she said.
Okobi is among the four people who died in 2018 after being tased by law enforcement in San Mateo County, a series of events that has led to a call for more transparency surrounding the use of Tasers and perhaps a ban.
The previous two Taser-related deaths were in Redwood City and Daly City, according to Bay City News. In a news conference in October, the Okobi family’s attorney, Oakland civil rights attorney John Burris, called for a moratorium on Taser use in the county.
In December, a second person was killed by police in Redwood City, Kyle Hart, a teacher at Frank S. Greene Middle School in Palo Alto who was threatening to kill himself. Redwood City police officers also used a Taser on Hart before they shot him.
Four deaths by law enforcement officers is highly unusual in San Mateo County, which has a population smaller than San Francisco. According to Bay City News archives as well as databases maintained by the Guardian and the Washington Post, there were three deaths by police shootings in the county in 2017 and none in either 2015 or 2016.
There had not been a Taser-related death in the county since 2005, when Pacifica police officers Tased Gregory Saulsbury Jr. while he was already handcuffed, according to a Reuters database of deaths involving Tasers.
At the rally on Monday, Ebele urged supporters to fight for transparency and accountability,
"Raise our voices. Lobby our leaders. Vote out those who don't stand for justice."
A total of 51 people signed up to speak at the meeting. Most opposed the use of Tasers.
But law enforcement said the tool is less lethal than real guns.
"If we remove that tool, are we creating problems," countered San Mateo County Supervisor David Canepa. Supervisors listened to the pros and cons of Tasers during the special meeting.
The ACLU, a cardiologist and San Mateo County Sheriff Carlos Belanos spoke at the meeting. "Without the Taser, deputies have their options limited," Belanos said.
He said Tasers are necessary, "Without the Taser, a high degree of injury is likely to occur to a member of the public or a deputy when physical force , a baton or a firearm is used."
Canepa says the purpose of the meeting is to find out more about the use and effect of tasers.
Two supervisors who make up the subcommittee on tasers plan to meet with Belanos to discuss the current taser policy to see what, if any changes are needed.
The San Mateo County District Attorney said he will decide by the end of February or first week of March if the deputies involved in the Okobi incident will face criminal charges.