The sister of an unarmed black man who died after being tased by California deputies last month says police video of the incident contradicts official accounts of how he died.
Chinedu Okobi, 36, died on October 3 in Millbrae, a city about 30 miles northwest of Silicon Valley.
In a statement released that day, San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office said deputies encountered Okobi “running in and out of traffic” about 1 p.m.
Okobi “immediately assaulted” a deputy who got out of his vehicle and there was a struggle with other deputies who responded, the statement continued. It said Okobi was taken into custody and transported to a hospital, where he died. San Mateo County District Attorney Stephen Wagstaffe said Tasers were discharged at Okobi three to four times.
An autopsy report has not been completed.
Okobi’s sister Ebele Okobi – Facebook’s public policy director for Africa – said in a post on the social media platform Sunday that her family had seen videos on Friday of her brother “getting tortured to death in broad daylight.”
“They were shocking because they contradicted, in every single particular, the statement that the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office released and to which San Mateo District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe referred in multiple news outlets after my brother’s murder,” she wrote.
CNN has not viewed the video and has not been able to confirm what it shows.
Wagstaffe said the video will be released when an investigation into the incident has concluded.
In a Monday statement, the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office said it “also wants these videos released to the public as soon as possible.”
“It is our understanding that there may still be witnesses to interview and therefore the release of video could influence the independent recollection of those witnesses,” the sheriff’s office said. “We need to provide the district attorney’s office with every ability to conduct a full and complete investigation.”
‘He is not fighting’
Ebele Okobi wrote that the videos showed that her brother had been calmly walking on the sidewalk, carrying bags, when a deputy drove up alongside him and asked what he was doing, telling Okobi he needed to question him. Her brother then “walks to the intersection, looks out for traffic, and crosses the street,” her Facebook post says.
She said the deputy calls for backup and a second police car cuts off Okobi, who drops his bags and puts his hands in the air.
“They grab him, rip off his jacket. He tries to run, asking, ‘What’s wrong? What did I do?’” Ebele Okobi wrote. She said her brother was then tased and fell to the ground while keeping his hands raised.
“He is not fighting, just crying in pain. I will never forget the visual of his hands, waving above his head, open, begging. He begs them to take the Taser prongs off of him. He tries to pull them off himself,” Ebele Okobi’s post reads.
“When there is a break in the torture, my brother staggers to his knees, tries to run away. A deputy pulls out his baton, strikes, they tase him again. My brother goes down. At some point, my brother tries to run across the street, they chase him, they tase him, they pepper spray him, they jump on top of him while he is prone,” she writes.
Eventually, the footage shows someone shouting “I see blood,” she writes. “Then it’s over.” No CPR or other lifesaving measures are administered, she writes.
Ebele Okobi listed a number of calls for action, including for the videos and relevant recordings to be released to the public. She also called for a moratorium on the use of Tasers in San Mateo County and the creation of a permanent independent police review body to investigate officer-involved killings and use of force.
Wagstaffe declined her call for an independent investigation, saying his investigation is not yet complete.
“Everything that I review at the end of this I release to the public,” Wagstaffe said Sunday night.
He told CNN that Okobi’s family and their attorneys had viewed a 25-30 minute composite video – made up of witness cell phone video, surveillance footage and deputies’ dashcam footage – that showed any interaction between law enforcement and Okobi on the day he died. He said that sheriff’s deputies do not wear body cameras.
Wagstaffe said he decided to show the video to the Okobi family because he wanted them to be apprised of the situation from his office, rather than hearing of any new developments secondhand through the media.
“They lost a loved one,” Wagstaffe said, “I respect that.”
Wagstaffe said neither he nor anyone from his office had ever said Okobi attacked a deputy and said any correction of the record in those statements would have to be done by the San Mateo County Sheriff’s office.
Father of one
In the weeks after her brother’s death, Ebele Okobi spoke out against police violence against black men.
“It doesn’t matter what school you went to,” she said. “You can go to Harvard. You can work in tech. Every black American will tell you they live in a state of constant anxiety. Every black man will tell you they can work at Google, they can be a senior person at Facebook or Apple but when you’re driving and you’re a black man, you recognize the danger that you’re in.”
Chinedu Okobi graduated in 2003 with a degree in business administration from Morehouse College in Atlanta.
He grew up in the San Francisco area as the youngest son of a Nigerian-American family, Ebele Okobi said after his death.
She said her brother had a 12-year-old daughter and was really gentle: “He was someone people connected to all his life. He was a kind person. He loved poetry. He recorded poetry. He recorded rap. He was also very spiritual and deeply religious.”
Ebele Okobi also said in October that her brother had spent the last decade struggling with mental health issues and may have stopped taking medications earlier this year.
In her Facebook post Sunday, she said that she was angry that she had at first believed it was possible that her brother’s mental illness could have played a role in his death.
“I knew that my brother didn’t ‘attack’ or ‘assault’ deputies, but because of his mental illness, I believed it was possible that he might have been in crisis and acting erratically,” she said.