A Facebook executive and the sister of a black man tased to death by police near Silicon Valley last month said she’s seen video that contradicts officers’ accounts of the incident.
Officers from the San Mateo Sheriff’s Department encountered Chinedu Okobi, a 36-year-old Nigerian-American man, “running in and out” of traffic, as the police statement described, on Oct. 3 before assaulting an officer. Although the police statement made no mention of Okobi being tased, reporting later confirmed he was and died at a hospital.
But in the video that Okobi’s sister, Ebele, said she saw, her brother is simply walking along the sidewalk in broad daylight. Police escalated the situation, not him, according to Ebele.
“Two days ago, I watched the police videos of my brother’s October 3 murder. They were shocking, not just because I sat next to my mother as we watched my little brother getting tortured to death in broad daylight, ” Ebele wrote on her Facebook page on Sunday. “They were shocking because they contradicted, in every single particular, the statement that the San Mateo County Sheriff's Office released and to which San Mateo District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe referred in multiple news outlets after my brother’s murder.”
Ebele, who’s described as the “secretary of state for Facebook for the African continent,” is now calling on the police department and the district attorney’s office to make the video and audio of her brother’s death public. The San Mateo Sheriff’s Department said it will release the materials once an investigation into the incident is complete, although the department did not respond to a request for further comment.
In the immediate aftermath of Chinedu’s death, the department released a statement that described the events of Oct. 3 — but never mentioned that Okobi was tased and stated only that the incident did not involve gunfire. Okobi’s family, who spoke to the coroner, told news outlets that he died after being tased, but didn’t know for how long or how many times.
Deputies encountered Chinedu around 1.00 p.m. “running in and out of traffic,” according to the statement. A deputy pulled up next to Chinedu and tried to talk to him, but he responded by assaulting the deputy. The deputy radioed for backup, and when more officers arrived on the scene, Chinedu continued to be noncompliant.
“The struggle continued with the deputies on scene,” according to the police statement. “The suspect was taken into custody. The deputy who was assaulted was transported to the hospital, where he was treated for his injuries. The suspect was also transported to the hospital, where it was later learned that he died.”
In her Facebook post, Ebele wrote that law enforcement exploited the fact that Chinedu suffered from a mental illness to justify killing him and that the video doesn’t corroborate their assertion that Chinedu was behaving erratically.
“The video of my brother’s murder starts out with a dash cam view of my brother, walking calmly down the sidewalk, carrying bags,” she wrote. “It’s notable, because the view shows other people walking-it’s broad daylight, so there is nothing particularly interesting or sinister about a man walking down the street, holding bags, heading somewhere. He is dressed normally, and doesn’t look disheveled or as if he’s in crisis.”
Nor was Chinedu “running in and out of traffic,” as police said, Ebele wrote; he was walking on the sidewalk. “The video shows the deputy was driving down the street, noticed my brother walking down the sidewalk from about a block away, and decided to stop him,” she wrote. The deputy then pulled up alongside Chinedu, asked what he’s doing, and said he needed to question him. Ebele wrote that her brother answered quietly, not loud enough to hear what he said.
He then walked to the intersection, looked out for traffic, and crossed the street, Ebele wrote. At that point, the deputy called in a “Code 3,” meaning “emergency, send back-up.”
“The deputy, within two minutes of having seen my brother, has dramatically escalated a situation that didn’t need to even be a situation and has then lied about being in danger and there being an emergency,” Ebele wrote, “which he knows will result in other deputies coming in hot.”
At that point, police said Chinedu assaulted a deputy. But Ebele described a very different scene.
“They grab him, rip off his jacket. He tries to run, asking, “What’s wrong? What did I do?,” Ebele wrote. “That’s when Deputy Joshua Wang tased him.” She wrote that her brother fell onto his back, crying. “He has the presence of mind to keep his hands in the air, even as Deputy Wang holds the taser and continuously sends volts of electricity through his prone body,” she wrote. “He is not fighting, just crying in pain. I will never forget the visual of his hands, waving above his head, open, begging.”
The death of Chinedu received national attention, in part due to his sister’s high-profile job at Facebook. Her position has entailed traveling with the company’s founder Mark Zuckerberg to countries in Africa and meeting with the Nigerian president. Nonetheless, as a black woman living in America, she said she still had to suffer the painful reality of losing a family member to police violence.
“Privilege does not protect you in any way,” Ebele Okobi told the Guardian last month. “I’ve been struck by the responses from people I know: ‘I don’t believe this happened to you.’”