State College

State College borough leaders address Osagie shooting, call for public release of report

Centre County DA assures ‘complete, independent investigation’ for officer-involved shooting

Centre County District Attorney Bernie Cantorna provides updates on the March 20, 2019 shooting in State College. He said there will be a "thorough and complete, independent investigation" into Osaze Osagie's death.
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Centre County District Attorney Bernie Cantorna provides updates on the March 20, 2019 shooting in State College. He said there will be a "thorough and complete, independent investigation" into Osaze Osagie's death.

The officer-involved shooting death of Osaze Osagie hung over the Borough Council meeting Monday night — the first since the shooting — as each member present, and Mayor Donald Hahn, took a moment to address the events of March 20.

“On March 21, I tweeted that I woke up just as heartbroken and angry as I was last night about the death of Osaze Osagie, and I have not been able to shake these feelings in the days since,” Councilman Dan Murphy said. “I sit before you tonight still heartbroken, and still angry.”

Added Councilman Jesse Barlow: “The effects of his death will not end with the investigation, so our concern shouldn’t either. His death exposes some issues that should concern all of us a great, great deal.”

Council members questioned how police respond to mental health calls, urged patience amid an ongoing investigation and called for its results to be open, timely and transparent.

“My hope is that the report will be completed and delivered with speed, and be open to public examination and scrutiny,” Hahn said, “and that council will schedule a work session to review it, to ask questions and follow up with possible improvements.”

Osagie, a 29-year-old African-American man diagnosed with autism, was shot and killed when three borough police officers were attempting to serve a mental health warrant at Osagie’s apartment along Old Boalsburg Road. According to an affidavit, Osagie was shot after he brandished a knife, didn’t obey verbal commands to put the knife down, and “came after the officers.”

His father, Sylvester Osagie, reported earlier his son was missing and had been acting erratically, similar to when he was off his medication, according to the court filing.

The investigation into Osagie’s death was immediately handed over to state police. That agency will turn its findings over to the Centre County district attorney, who will then make the final determinations on the disposition of the report and any final conclusions.

When pressed by a resident Monday during a public comment session, borough Manager Tom Fountaine said that while the state police and DA’s office will ultimately control how much and what parts of the final report are released, the borough is “committed to being as transparent as we possibly can be based on the information we receive.”

The resident also pressed council on when and why trained professionals stopped responding with State College police for mental health warrants, and what training borough officers have to deal with such situations.

The borough police department, administration and some community members are in the process of determining what changed historically with respect to county mental health agencies and their support for police responses, but there’s some differing of opinion about the degree of that support, when and if it was available, and when it was no longer available, Fountaine said. He also said the borough is committed to having a public conversation about the full range of issues on mental health.

“We are working on posting all police trainings and curriculum State College officers have gone through on the borough’s website,” Fountaine said.

While all six council members present — Theresa Lafer was absent — and Hahn each gave their statements, some community members present at the meeting said they did not think the statements were enough.

Gary Abdullah, of College Township, cautioned using mental health as a crutch to avoid difficult conversations about race in the region.

Pointing to the town-and-gown Task Force on Policing Communities of Color report and recommendations released in 2016, Abdullah said it’s going to take more than “another special report” to begin to work on some of the problems highlighted by the Osagie shooting.

“I hope we’re ready to get out of our comfort zones and do more as the leaders of this community,” he said. “The fixes for this will not happen in this room.”

Borough resident Tabitha Stickel echoed Abdullah’s concerns, calling upon council to take action in the forms of policy changes and tangible examples of how to move forward and better the community.

Council President Evan Myers said he agrees with residents who voiced concerns. To effect change, he said after the meeting, State College residents need to acknowledge the reality of the context in which the shooting occurred. Young black men have been on the receiving end of police shootings at a disproportionate rate, he said.

“People have to be aware of that and mindful of that, because I think there are people who aren’t,” Myers said. “How we all interact with each other on a daily basis, I think, is something we need to look inside and we have that conversation about race. A lot of people find it extremely difficult and uncomfortable.

“Well, it may be uncomfortable, but it needs to happen.”

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