I want to bring attention to a systematic injustice that has been taking place in our city of El Cajon, one that unfortunately is not confined nor unique to El Cajon by any stretch of the imagination. The issue is the rampant epidemic of police departments bending over backwards at any cost to protect problematic and troublesome officers who have long histories of physical violence, sexual harassment, disciplinary problems and other vile forms of misconduct. Problematic officers more often than not, are overwhelmingly given toothless slaps on the wrist when found to be committing wrongdoing on the job. This casual and permissive attitude towards police misconduct on the behalf of departments not only emboldens troubled and problematic officers to continue this type of behavior undeterred but obliterates the delicate trust that communities should be able to have in the people who are supposed to be protecting our neighborhoods.
Just this past week, Alfred Olango, a 38 year El Cajon resident and Ugandan refugee, was shot and killed by the El Cajon Police Department (ECPD) in the Broadway Village Shopping Center parking lot, located on Broadway in El Cajon, CA following a 911 call made by his sister after he had suffered a mental breakdown. There have been many weak and feeble excuses conjured up on the behalf of cop apologist and police brass blaming Alfred Olango and his family for his own death; citing his immigration status, his mental state and health as well as his past record, all which conveniently tip-toe around and ignore the fact that Alfred Olango had committed no crime when his sister called 911, in hope that authorities would help assist her ailing brother, not serve as an extra-judiciary execution squad to murder him upon contact. There are also many glaring egregious errors that need to be addressed in regards to the ECPD’s treatment of Mr. Olango and the subsequent aftermath following his death, such as: why did it take over 50 minutes for officers to respond after his sister had called 3 times? Why wasn’t a PERT team (Psychiatric Emergency Response Team) dispatched to diffuse the situation even though a 5150 (involuntary psychiatric hold) call had been made? Why was Alfred Olango shot and killed less than a minute after officers arrived on the scene? Why didn’t police set up a safe perimeter when they knew beforehand that they were responding to a 5150 call and that he could be potentially armed with an object, later determined to be a harmless vape-pen? Why did one officer feel the need to fatally shoot Alfred Olango 4 times before he even hit the ground, when another felt it was only necessary to use a taser? Why did the ECPD selectively choose to release a still freeze-frame of the witness cell phone footage under the supposed guise of maintaining the integrity of the investigation instead of being upfront from the beginning? All of these and many, many more questions are glaring errors that demand swift, upfront and transparent answers from the ECPD. But before all of this: before the first call was made, before the first interaction, before the first shot was even fired, I want to dive into the history of the officer who killed Alfred Olango, and prove to you why he had absolutely no business performing in the role of an armed, on-duty police officer that day or any other day EVER and why he is a glaring indictment of how our current institution of policing operates and continues to function in this city and throughout the entire country.
Allow me to introduce you to officer Richard Gonsalves, a 21-year police veteran who shot and killed Alfred Olango here in El Cajon this past week. A glaring detail that is now just finally being more thoroughly addressed in the light of last week’s shooting is the fact that Gonsalves has a long and sordid history within the ECPD. Up until this past week, outside of El Cajon or San Diego County, very few people would have recognized Gonsalves name or knew about his reputation in the department. However, in light of the killing of Alfred Olango, it is finally being brought to the attention of the greater public that Gonsalves has been involved in not just one, but two sexual harassment lawsuits within the past year, both filed by a fellow officer nonetheless!
Back in 2015, according to ABC 10 News San Diego, Gonsalves sent lewd inappropriate and sexually charged pictures and text messages as well as nude photos of himself to several women in the department that he supervised. One of these officers was Christine Greer, an ECPD officer who filed the sexual harassment claim against Gonsalves and the department on allegations that she was passed over for a promotion because she cooperated with an investigation into Gonsalves regarding the sexually charged texts and photos he sent to her. Greer claimed in the lawsuit that along with other lewd photos and messages, Gonsalves sent text messages asking Greer and her wife to join him for a threesome, stating “I’m drunk and I want u! Both of u!” After litigation officer Greer and the city settled the lawsuit in November of 2015. However, instead of firing Gonsalves outright, the ECPD decided instead to simply demote Gonsalves from sergeant to officer despite the subsequent lawsuit of sexual-harassment from officer Greer.
In spite of all this, the debauchery does not end there. To make matters worse, in August of 2016, Greer filed a 2nd lawsuit against Gonsalves and the department! According to ABC 10 San Diego, just months after settling the first sexual harassment lawsuit against Gonsalves, Greer filed a second lawsuit saying the “vile” conduct continued within the ECPD. In the second lawsuit, Greer claimed she faced emotional and mental distress on the job while members of the department retaliated against her for speaking out about Gonsalves sexual harassment in the first lawsuit. That retaliation included comments made by male officers, spit on her locker, stalking and intimidation by Gonsalves in the halls of ECPD and being forced to work in the same place as Gonsalves, who she claimed in her first lawsuit sexually harassed her. Greer’s attorney, Dan Gilleon, the same attorney that is now representing the Olango family stated “He should have been fired…I think he should have been prosecuted. There’s no employer out there in their right mind that wouldn’t fire someone that does that”. Gilleon also went on to say in regards to the second lawsuit “ECPD made the incomprehensible decision to force Officer Greer to work with Gonsalves in her immediate presence…For her to settle the lawsuit and then them say, ‘OK, we’re fine now, now go back and work with him?’ It’s ridiculous” Gilleon said. The lawsuit also further said “the city failed to take reasonable measures to prevent such conduct from continuing…Instead, they permitted, condoned and acquiesced in the wrongful conduct”. This raises the ugly and glaring question as to why in the hell was Gonsalves not immediately fired by the ECPD following not one, but two lawsuits made by a fellow officer? What possible justification could the ECPD give in defense of allowing somebody with such low moral character and a proven liability to remain on the force and retain his authority as an officer? I can’t think of a single job or occupation that would allow a person to remain in a position of power and authority after such a scandal, even most politicians would be finished after such a disgusting act like this! I can’t imagine any other kind of public servant getting away with conduct like this, nor should they!! Could you imagine if a paramedic, firefighter or teacher was embroiled in the same controversy and at the end of the day still retained their occupation interacting with the general public?? The outcry would be deafening!! We wouldn’t tolerate this kind of conduct and behavior in these professions or any other, for that matter, for a second, so why do we so freely and causally allow it amongst people who are literally paid to carry weapons and patrol our neighborhoods, who are supposedly supposed to ‘serve and protect’ the public? For example, let me give you a quick rundown of the Commission on Teacher Credentialing background check. In the state of California, across all counties, there’s a database of all teachers full-time and substitute (even substitute!!) so that school districts can see applicant’s past work experience, what they have done in the past and if they have been terminated anywhere. In the teaching profession, an applicant can be rejected for being fired elsewhere, prior documented drug use, sexual harassment, being a registered sex offender among other strikes on one’s record that would bar applicants from most other professions as well. This comprehensive database and background check are not limited to the teaching profession. However, to my knowledge, no comprehensive system like this exists for police officers and departments nationwide, as many officer’s records and files are destroyed after a certain amount of time or never disclosed at all varying on the department’s policy. Yet these same systems are implemented with much success in other professions, all of which carry just as much if not fewer responsibilities.
Yet, for some reason, we don’t see these same expectations and moral standard applied to officers and the greater policing profession, in fact often times quite the opposite. Unfortunately, it appears that there is a “good old boy” culture within the ECPD. Again, a quality that is in absolutely no way unique or limited to the department and is all too common throughout many police departments across the country. Time and time again, we have been force-fed this tired and trite ‘bad apples’ analogy which simply serves as a literal cop-out to avoid instituting comprehensive, systematic change and in-depth examination into the way policing currently operates and functions in this country today. Over and over and over again, we are forced to hear story, after story, after story, of officers with long and troubled histories, who have been rejected or have bounced around from department to department after being rejected or fired from previous departments in the past for their negligence, incompetence, and violence. I know many of the most relentless critics of the press and fiercest defenders of the police will cry “not all police are bad”. I do not buy nor feed into the argument of “not all cops”. It’s a lazy and cowardly attempt to shirk responsibility as well as stifle and impede honest, meaningful discussion on the problem of police brutality and misconduct throughout this country. First and foremost, let’s dispel with the myth that bad police officers are rare, they are not! They are perspicuously abundant from coast to coast. This critique and cross-examination isn’t just about individual cops or select departments that have been caught covering up for rogue, corrupt or plain incompetent officers, it’s an indictment and censure of the profession and culture of U.S. policing as a whole. Where are all the “good cops”? It appears that good cops are either chased off the force, set up or muzzled by the “blue wall of silence.” Mercilessly harassed and castigated by their own colleagues, like officer Greer was for daring to speak up and challenging the disgusting ilk and behavior that the ECPD has allowed to permiss within the force. All those who choose to turn a blind eye or to be purposely ignorant to the actions of such rogue individuals who hide and lurk amongst their ranks for protection are complicit and accomplice to such misconduct and brutality whether they chose to admit it or not.
Corrupt, negligent, overzealous and abusive cops in the U.S. are not unlike pedophile priests. The fact that police superiors excuse and bend over backward to cover up and allow them to simply resign or transfer from county to county, department to department to save face and protect them, allowing them to continue to abuse more people, endangering the public and further emboldening them as their crimes and misconduct are allowed continue unpunished with no real repercussions are no better than the Vatican for covering such despicable crimes!! At this point, if police departments refuse to hold their own officers accountable for their crimes and misconduct, it is not only safe but necessary to assume that we are no longer simply dealing with a few “bad apples”. Instead, we are dealing with a sick and poisoned tree, a nauseous festering system that is rotten to the core, which bares nothing but foul spoiled fruit that only plants the seeds for further abuse, corruption, misconduct, and injustice across the country and within our communities. Here in El Cajon, officer Gonsalves should have never been allowed to remain on the force or retain his job as a police officer, plain and simple!! Chief Jeff Davis and the ECPD not only failed our city, but they failed our community, they failed the Olango Family and they failed Alfred Olango himself who was killed at the hands of a negligent, incompetent officer who should have never been allowed to remain amongst the ranks of the ECPD and been fired over a year ago!! Richard Gonsalves has proven himself over and over again to be a menace both within and now outside of the ECPD, and Chief Jeff Davis has proven himself to be an incompetent judge of moral character as well as integrity; in regards to the officers, he allows to serve within the El Cajon police department! I implore every, single, citizen of El Cajon who holds an ounce of conviction and desire for justice and transparency in our city demand that mayor Bill Wells not only call for the immediate resignation and prosecution of Richard Gonsalves, but the immediate resignation of Chief Jeff Davis as well!! Our community can no longer place trust in a leader nor organization that would allow an individual of such low, disgusting, despicable moral character to legally stalk our streets armed with the legal authority to carry deadly weapons and uphold the law!! It is quite frankly abominable that we as a community have allowed the ECPD to stoop to such heinous lows and allow them to continue to wallow in this grotesque display of mediocrity and incompetence. I implore residents of El Cajon to rise up!! Forcefully demand that our city not only finally reign in, but inflict swift and uncompromising justice upon those that have not only allowed gross negligence but unabashed injustice to run rampant in our city and our police force. Let’s end this injustice once and for all, and start anew with brand new perspective and leadership!! Demand the immediate firing and prosecution of Richard Gonsalves! Demand the immediate resignation of Chief Jeff Davis!! Let’s end this madness before yet another tragedy befalls our city once more.
Photo Courtesy: Roberto Camacho