State College

With internal review complete, officer who fatally shot Osagie is set to return to active duty

Friends of Osagie want police held accountable

Several friends of Osaze Osagie spoke during a community conversation on mental health that they want the police officers to be held accountable for his death in March.
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Several friends of Osaze Osagie spoke during a community conversation on mental health that they want the police officers to be held accountable for his death in March.

The State College police officer who fatally shot Osaze Osagie is scheduled to return to active duty after he is medically cleared, Borough Manager Tom Fountaine said Monday.

The unidentified officer, along with two other officers who responded on March 20, acted in accordance with department policy, established procedures and state law, according to an internal investigation published Monday by the department.

The officers attempted to serve a mental health warrant on Osagie — who police had previous interactions with — when the 29-year-old African American diagnosed with autism ran toward them with a knife, Centre County District Attorney Bernie Cantorna said in his report on the investigation.

Officer No. 1, the man who fired the fatal shots, was placed on paid administrative leave the day of the shooting and has remained inactive since — in line with borough police policy.

His pending medical evaluation is a “routine practice,” Fountaine said during a press conference Tuesday at the borough municipal building. He declined to divulge the details of what is evaluated, citing privacy laws, and did not offer a timeline for the evaluation.

Officer No. 2, the man who fired his Taser “almost simultaneous” to the gun shots, was also placed on administrative leave immediately. He returned to restricted duty March 30 and was placed on full duty May 13 — five days after Cantorna announced the shooting was justified.

Officer No. 3 was placed on administrative leave March 22, returned to restricted duty March 25 and was placed on full duty May 13.

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State College police Chief John Gardner talks to Pennsylvania state police and Lt. Greg Brauser amid an investigation at the Marvin Gardens apartment complex after a police-involved shooting on Wednesday, March 20, 2019. Abby Drey adrey@centredaily.com

All three officers received crisis intervention team training and were up-to-date on other required training, according to the report. Officer No. 3 is a certified crisis negotiator and has been with the department for 25 years, borough communications specialist Douglas Shontz said Tuesday.

Officer No. 1 has been with the department for 12 years and officer No. 2 has been with the department for 21 years, Shontz said.

Chief John Gardner on Tuesday declined to publicly discuss the department’s work environment or what his conversations with officer No. 1 have been like the past five months. Instead, he said his officers have “maintained a high level of professionalism.”

Neither American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania communications Director Andy Hoover nor Kathleen Yurchak and Andrew Shubin, attorneys for the Osagie family, immediately responded to request for comment Tuesday.

ACLU-PA Executive Director Reggie Shuford previously said the department owed it to the public to identify officer No. 1 because police officers are public employees paid with taxpayer money. Both the borough and the police department balked at Shuford’s request because no charges were filed against the officers.

In the months since Osagie’s death, community members have suggested race issues were at play in the shooting. That “public accusation” was investigated by borough police, the Centre County district attorney’s office, state police and the heritage affairs section of the state police equality and inclusion office, which responds to potential hate and bias-based crimes.

All of them reached the same conclusion: race played no role in the shooting. Any officer of any race would have reacted the same way, state police Sgt. William Slaton said in May.

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Iyun Osagie, Osaze Osagie’s mother, and a crowd of community members walk up Allen Street in downtown State College to rally for justice on May 8, 2019. Osaze was shot by police on March 20, 2019 after the officers went to his apartment to serve a mental health warrant. Abby Drey adrey@centredaily.com

During his review, borough Assistant Chief Matthew Wilson reviewed officer No. 1’s email, car-to-car instant messaging and work text message records. Wilson also reviewed officer No. 1’s application of force since he was hired by the borough, which included the 1,283 arrests he has made.

“I located nothing referencing this incident or anything related to racial bias or anything inconsistent with department policy,” Wilson wrote in his report. “I researched past complaints against officer No. 1 and found only one use of force complaint that was subsequently unfounded in the preliminary investigation process.”

The use of force complaint came from a white, college-age man and did not involve injury, Wilson wrote.

“Despite no evidence nor indication whatsoever race played a role in the officers’ actions,” Wilson said he spoke with all three officers about whether race had anything to do with how they responded. All three said it did not.

The report acknowledged concerns raised by community members about Osagie’s peep hole being covered when officer No. 1 knocked on his door, that a mental health professional was not at the apartment and that officers made contact in a cramped hallway.

Many of those concerns are “commonly and professionally accepted police tactics,” Wilson wrote.

“Nonetheless, the board should consider this community feedback along with the totality of circumstances and information known by the officers at the time — not 20/20 hindsight — to consider, if anything, tactically different should or even could have been done, before attempting to contact this individual suffering from mental health to the degree that a 302 warrant has been issued,” Wilson wrote.

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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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