Mental health warrant led to officer-involved shooting, police say
Two State College police officers present during the fatal shooting of Osaze Osagie in March are back to work on restricted duty, and borough police Chief John Gardner on Wednesday offered more details about their training.
The officer who fired the fatal shots remains on administrative leave, State College police Lt. Greg Brauser said. Osagie, a 29-year-old black man diagnosed with autism, died of multiple gunshot wounds after the officers attempted to serve a mental health warrant on him at his apartment along Old Boalsburg Road, officials said.
Osagie brandished a knife, ignored verbal commands to put the knife down and “came after the (borough) officers,” according to a state police at Rockview search warrant.
All three officers who were present during that event received crisis intervention team training and one officer was a trained crisis negotiator, Gardner said Wednesday during a community meeting at the State College Municipal Building.
The CIT training is the “gold standard for law enforcement response to serving mental health warrants,” he said.
Working on restricted duty, the officers can perform administrative functions, but are restricted from responding to calls for service, Brauser said.
No timeline was provided for when the officers returned to the building. Gardner announced the trio was placed on administrative leave — in line with borough police policy — the day of the shooting.
Will the officers’ names be released?
Lt. Brian Ianuzzi, commander of the Troop G Rockview station, which is leading the investigation, told those present at Monday night’s Campus Community in Unity meeting at the State College Municipal Building that state police will not release the names of the officers involved in the shooting unless charges are filed against them.
That’s in accordance with state police policy, he said.
“However, when the time comes when the criminal investigators come to me and say we’re ready to go to the District Attorney’s Office, we’ve already discussed it (the report) with the family, the officers, with Chief Gardner, and reviewed our finding with them in a more detailed manner,” Ianuzzi said. “Because we feel we owe that to them.”
Like state police policy, Brauser said borough police policy is to not release the names of anyone being investigated by the department unless charges are filed. State College borough communication specialist Douglas Shontz said the borough would also not release the names.
Several community members present at Monday’s meeting took issue with those policies. Wideline Seraphin, a Penn State graduate student, said that as a person of color, knowing those officers are still active will make her feel less safe and less trusting of the entire department.
“This is a very small community, that means there’s a chance I will be interacting with, coming across, that the young kids here, university students, will be coming across these officers, and we won’t have any idea who these people are, and that is very concerning and unsettling,” she said. “That’s an aspect of our day-to-day lives that’s impacted by not releasing the names.”
Not knowing whether they’re interacting with an officer involved in the shooting, Seraphin told the Centre Daily Times, is “terrifying,” for people of color, as it creates more uncertainty about the best way to act with police, whether to become more docile or more adamant about their rights — a move, Seraphin said, that could be perceived as threatening.
“Our department does not put people on the street that we feel would be a danger to the public,” Brauser said Tuesday.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania has also called for transparency and accountability, including the release of the name of the officer who fired.
“Police officers are public employees who are given a great amount of power. They’re armed, and their actions can have deadly consequences, as it tragically did for Osaze Osagie,” ACLU-PA spokesman Andy Hoover said. “The public has a right to know the name of any public employee who is using violence, regardless of whether their behavior rises to the level of criminal charges. It’s a huge disservice to the community to not identify public employees who are using violence against residents.”
When asked Tuesday about the ACLU’s statement, Brauser said, “That’s the opinion of the ACLU.”
State College Borough Council President Evan Myers at Monday’s night’s council meting again called upon state police and the district attorney’s office to be “as transparent and forthcoming with information on the investigation as possible.”
The investigation was immediately handed over to state police, which completed interviews with everyone identified as having knowledge of the incident, District Attorney Bernie Cantorna announced April 9.
The evidence was processed and sent to the state police crime lab for testing. Results of that analysis and forensic testing, as well as a final autopsy report, are pending, Cantorna said. Once all reports are received, Cantorna said he will complete his investigation and release his findings.
“We’ll have to wait and see what they give to us,” Myers said after the meeting. “My hope is everything. And if not, I’m not saying we won’t have recourse, but I don’t know what that will be.”