State College

‘Justified in the use of force.’ DA will not file charges after police-involved shooting

Centre County DA’s report details findings of officer-involved shooting investigation

Centre County District Attorney Bernie Cantorna gives a detailed report of the investigation into the officer involved shooting on March 20, 2019 that killed 29-year-old Osaze Osagie.
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Centre County District Attorney Bernie Cantorna gives a detailed report of the investigation into the officer involved shooting on March 20, 2019 that killed 29-year-old Osaze Osagie.

A State College police officer was justified in fatally shooting the man who confronted him and two other officers with a knife as they attempted to serve a mental health warrant on him in March, Centre County District Attorney Bernie Cantorna announced Wednesday.

The announcement, made during a press conference at the Centre County Courthouse Annex, concluded a monthlong state police investigation into the shooting, which led to weeks of community conversations about race, mental health and the role of police.

“At the time of this incident, the officers acted consistent with their training and were justified in the use of force, both in the deployment of the Taser and shooting of Mr. Osagie,” Cantorna wrote in his 228-page report.

The Osagie family learned about the outcome of the investigation during a Tuesday meeting with Cantorna. In a statement, the Osagie’s parents, Sylvester and Iyunolu, said they left that meeting feeling disappointed and confused.

“The District Attorney’s decision opens a new wound for the Osagie family, who will forever regret reaching out to the police to seek emergency help for their son,” family attorneys Kathleen Yurchak and Andrew Shubin said in the statement.

Worrisome text messages led to mental health check

Borough police arrived at Osaze Osagie’s apartment along Old Boalsburg Road on March 20 after his father showed police text messages where his son threatened harm to himself or others. Sylvester Osagie also said his son had been acting erratically for a couple of weeks, similar to when he is off his medication, according to a state police at Rockview search warrant.

Osagie, a 29-year-old African American, was diagnosed with autism and had a history of anxiety and schizophrenia, Osagie’s father told Cantorna.

In one text message sent March 19 and provided in Cantorna’s report, Osagie indicated there would be trouble with the police “in a little bit,” and said, “any poor soul whose life I take today, if any poor soul at all, may God forgive his sins if he has any.”

Osagie also told his father in a telephone conversation — and a text message to a caseworker — that he was going to die, according to Cantorna’s report.

‘Drop the knife’

An on-duty patrol officer was dispatched to check on Osagie and two other officers joined him at Osagie’s apartment. All three officers — who neither Cantorna nor state police have named — were familiar with the general layout of the apartment complex from previous calls not related to Osagie, Cantorna said.

During Wednesday’s press conference, Cantorna used photos to show that the hallway for officers’ to access Osagie’s apartment was narrow and not large enough to accommodate two full-size adult males.

The first officer was in front of Osagie’s door, the second officer was on the first stair up from the landing and the third officer was about halfway up the steps, according to Cantorna.

The report details what officers reported happening in the 20 seconds, at most, between the time they knocked on the door of Osagie’s apartment and shots were fired.

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State College Police officers, Pennsylvania State Police officers, and detectives talk outside of Marvin Gardens apartment after the shooting of Osaze Osagie on March 20. Abby Drey adrey@centredaily.com

When Osagie opened the door, his right hand was out of the officers’ view and against the interior of the apartment’s wall about shoulder height. The officer asked Osagie if he would come outside to talk, but Osagie instead brandished a five-inch, serrated steak knife, according to Cantorna.

The officer drew his weapon, told Osagie to drop the knife “multiple” times and retreated, according to the report.

“In response to being told to drop the knife, Mr. Osagie said ‘shoot me,’ to which the officer responded, ‘No, drop the knife,’ ” the report said.

During the conversation, another officer prepared to deploy his Taser. Osagie ran inside his apartment after either seeing or hearing the Taser being activated and, according to the report, said, “No, I want to die.”

Osagie then ran out of his apartment “as fast as a person could run,” Cantorna said, with the knife in his right hand. The second officer deployed his Taser, though it had no effect, according to the report.

‘No other option but to shoot’

The first officer continued to back up, tripped on the stairs and watched Osagie turn toward the second officer. He then fired his pistol four times and stopped when he saw Osagie fall to the ground, according to the report.

“Those four shots took one second, in all likelihood, to occur. And at the same time, Mr. Osagie was running forward, turning, spinning, falling,” Cantorna said in response to a question about whether the officer could have stopped shooting.

Osagie was shot in the left shoulder and twice in the back, according to a pathologist’s report. The fourth shot missed Osagie and careened off his apartment door.

In interviews with investigators, the officer said he believed he would have been seriously injured or dead had he not fired.

“Mr. Osagie possessed both the ability and the means to seriously injure and kill both officers,” Cantorna’s report said. “Mr. Osagie would have been able to close the six feet distance between him and officer No. 1 ... in approximately 0.73 seconds.”

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Centre County District Attorney Bernie Cantorna releases his report on the death of Osaze Osagie to the media on Wednesday. Abby Drey adrey@centredaily.com

The officers were in a “life or death situation” and the officer who fired had “no other option but to shoot,” Cantorna said.

“At the time that officer No. 1 shot, there was no time to use any alternative means to stop a potentially deadly attack by Mr. Osagie,” Cantorna said. “At the time of the incident, both officers acted consistently with their training and were justified in the use of their force.”

The officers did not have time to retreat from Osagie’s apartment after they identified he was there, Cantorna said.

“In this case, they really never got that chance. They knocked on the door to see if he was there and, within seconds, he was there with a knife in his right hand,” Cantorna said. “As soon as they saw that, they attempted to retreat backwards and, in a matter of seconds, he was rushing them with that knife. Once they knocked on that door, the actions of Mr. Osagie left very few options for the officers.”

Race played no role, state police say

According to the family’s statement, Sylvester Osagie told Cantorna he was left wondering why police did not call him before they approached his son.

“I thought the police and I were working together to protect my son,” he said.

All three officers received crisis intervention team training and one was a crisis negotiator, according to borough police Chief John Gardner. He previously said the training is the “gold standard for law enforcement response to serving mental health warrants.”

“Officers are trained to shoot and shoot until the attack stops,” Cantorna said. “Officers are trained that one shot to the torso usually does not disable somebody. Over 60% of the time where there’s been a shooting in the chest, the individual is not disabled and sometimes can continue on for another five minutes.”

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Centre County District Attorney Bernie Cantorna releases the report for the investigation into the death of Osaze Osagie to the media on Wednesday. To the right of Cantorna are State police Sgt. William Slaton, Lt. Brian Ianuzzi, commander of the Troop G Rockview station, State police at Rockview corporal Thomas Stock and State police trooper Aaron Allen. Abby Drey adrey@centredaily.com

Two of the officers are borough police supervisors and have been in law enforcement for “decades,” Cantorna said. The officer who fired is a patrol officer with more than 10 years of experience, he said.

Because no charges were filed, Cantorna said the officers’ names will not be released, which is also state police policy.

While community forums and protests have claimed that race was a factor in Osagie’s death, State police Sgt. William Slaton, a Heritage Affairs commander within the agency’s Equality and Inclusion Office, said that race played no role in this case. He also addressed the mental health system, racial tensions, various police shootings throughout the nation and offered examples when state police charged an officer for shootings that were deemed unjustified.

“There is no racial animus in this incident,” Slaton said. “Whether these officers were white, black, Hispanic, (or) Asian, any reasonable officer would have reacted in the exact same manner that these officers did. ... These officers had mere seconds to react.”

The Osagie family continues to be in the “thoughts and prayers” of the State College Borough, which recognizes the impact the shooting has had on the broader community, Borough Manager Tom Fountaine said in a statement.

“While our officers have always had a strong relationship with the community, we have worked hard in recent years to enhance this relationship,” Fountaine said. “As we move forward to strengthen our relationships and address issues of race, inclusion, diversity and mental health, we continue to be proud of our officers and service that they provide.”

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Bret Pallotto primarily reports on courts and crime for the Centre Daily Times. He grew up in Lewistown and graduated from Lock Haven University.
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