Chinedu Valentine Okobi, 36, a Black man, father, Morehouse College graduate, uncle and brother died of cardiac arrest after San Mateo County police tackled and repeatedly used a Taser on him in Millibrae, south of San Francisco, Calif.
Okobi was struggling with mental illness and had been weaving in and out of traffic downtown on the busy street, El Camino Real.
San Mateo County District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe said when Okobi was first approached, he “immediately assaulted” a deputy and two deputies fired stun guns four times. The investigation timeline is 8-10 weeks.
The family’s lawyer John Burris said there’s a video showing Okobi fearing for his life.
“It looks like he’s on the ground, he’s being Tased, he’s shouting, ‘What did I do,'” Mr. Burris said. “He ultimately gets away from that. He’s running. He looks like he’s running for his life.”
He said a passerby described Okobi as being unconscious and foaming at the mouth, while seated on the ground, chin on his chest and being propped up by a deputy’s knee.
The incident occurred in Silicon Valley where less than one percent of the population is Black.
Ebele Okobi, Okobi’s sister and Facebook’s Public Policy Director for Africa, said she left the U.S. “so that I would never have to have this phone call about my son. To get this phone call about my brother felt both shocking and inevitable because this is what I was running away from.”
Months before, he had lost his job and was isolated from his family. The day before his death, he sent a child support payment to the mother of his 12-year-old daughter. His sister, Ebele, said she feared several months ago that Okobi may have stopped taking his medication.
She has questions about the methods police used to subdue her brother — why they kept using a Taser on him instead of calling for medical help Were they even trained in crisis intervention training to recognize the signs of someone having a mental health episode
This is one of many instances over the years of deaths of unarmed Black men at the hands of police, and also deaths of Blacks with mental illness by police.
Wagstaffe said an officer needs to have good reason to use a Taser, which is supposed to be non-lethal force.
“It has to be because he is seeking to gain control of a person who is physically resisting them,” Mr. Wagstaffe said, rather than someone who is simply mouthing off.
“There’s a part of me that’s angry that this is the reality for everybody Black I know and that people can live completely oblivious to that reality,” Ebele told USA TODAY.
“I don’t have the emotional fortitude to raise a Black son in America. We live in London. No place is perfect, but when my husband leaves home, I don’t worry like I do here.”
Activist and family friend, Shaun King, who has pledged to share Okobi’s story “before the media and police tried to tear his good name apart,” echoed Ebele’s sentiments on Instagram saying, “The United States has no sincere interest in protecting and valuing the lives of Black people.”
“His name is now one of too many names,” Ebele wrote on social media. “He was a person. He was my little brother, he was a father, he was loved. Now he is gone, and our hearts are broken.”
A memorial fund to make donations to the Equal Justice Initiative in his honor has been set up on Facebook.
Reader Question: What could police have done differently