Parents of Osaze Osagie address State College Borough Council
For the first time since their son was fatally shot by a State College borough police officer, Iyun and Sylvester Osagie addressed Borough Council members and the public with their unanswered questions, disappointment and unwavering hope in the systems that led to their son’s death.
“The circumstances under which Osaze died have a huge impact on me and my family, that goes way beyond the loss of a son,” Sylvester Osagie said during Monday night’s council meeting. “It has threatened to destroy my entire family. … For a child you love to go through life with severe disabilities is heart-wrenching. For our child to die under the circumstances in which Osaze died is a parent’s nightmare.”
Osaze Osagie, 29, was shot and killed by a borough police officer on March 20 after officers attempted to serve him with a mental health “302” warrant at his apartment. Osagie, who suffered from schizophrenia and was on the autism spectrum, had sent text messages to his father earlier in the day that alarmed him, and his father was unable to find him.
Both Centre County District Attorney Bernie Cantorna’s report and a police department internal review found officers acted consistent with their training and without racial bias.
But the Osagies still have lingering questions about why the events of March 20 transpired the way they did.
Sylvester Osagie wondered why he was not notified by borough police officers after they found his son and before they tried to serve Osaze with a 302 warrant.
“If Osaze was not cooperating with the police, it’s not unreasonable for a familiar face to be called in to talk to him and encourage him to cooperate with authorities and be taken to the hospital,” he said. “Seeking help when in distress is not an act of criminality.”
That day, he had been hesitant to call police in the first place because “such interactions (with police) unfortunately sometimes portend tragic incidents.”
Iyun Osagie questioned the way in which Osagie’s death investigation was carried out, pointing out ways she felt the two reports fell short of illuminating the truth.
“Based on the very findings in the two reports, I find it hard to believe that we’re left with the conclusions arrived at, where police officers are totally exculpated of any wrongdoing,” she said.
According to one of the reports, she said, police were aware of the layout of Osaze Osagie’s apartment from a prior unrelated incident. If that were the case, she said, officers should not have tried to execute the 302 warrant “in the manner in which they did, given the tight spaces within which they had to work.”
She also said she was not satisfied that she understood the process through which both reports determined a lack of racial bias, having asked Cantorna and received “no straightforward or satisfactory answer.”
“For the record,” Sylvester Osagie said, “I want you to understand that it is the word of the officers involved against that of a dead man.”
The Osagies said they have nothing against the police and that their family has been supportive of the borough police department and have friends on the police force.
“We continue to value police lives, and respect the difficult work they do,” Iyun Osagie said. “But we also hope they will value the lives they are hired to protect. Bottom line, if (Osaze Osagie) was the son of one of the police officers who was in distress, I don’t believe that any of the responding officers on the scene would have pulled the trigger and claimed to fear for his life.”
Osagie’s death spurred the creation of a county-wide mental health task force, a borough race and equity plan and an outside policy review of the borough’s police department.
Both Osagie parents commended Borough Council for approving funding for its three-pronged approach to race, mental health and policing. They also thanked members of the community for trying to “seek the truth” behind their son’s death and start the healing process.
“Yes, as a family we have been traumatized. But the community as well has been traumatized,” Iyun Osagie said. “Solutions to this crisis is not just for us but for our community as a whole.”
Borough Manager Tom Fountaine said he and county administrator Margaret Gray are continuing to work on the appointment of members to the mental health task force, and expect it to be completed by late this week or early next week.
The first task force meeting is Sept. 26. Additionally, a followup meeting to the community conversation on State College Police Department’s internal report of the March 20 shooting is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Sept. 18 in the council chambers.
“It is in everyone’s interest in the community, including the police, that we put a high premium on saving lives, not taking lives, because the price paid by the victim, the victim’s family, and even the police and their families, is way too high,” Iyun Osagie said. “Yes, the mental health processes in place failed my son. The police procedures in place also failed my son. We look forward to the task force recommendations and to police that help protect everybody in our community.”