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Centre County DA Says No Charges For Police In Shooting Of Black Man With Mental Health Issues

Centre County DA Bernie Cantorna, along with Will Slaton, commander of the Heritage Affairs section in the Pennsylvania State Police Equality and Inclusion Office, announced Wednesday that police officers who killed Osaze Osagie would not face charges.
Anne Danahy

Centre County District Attorney Bernie Cantorna announced Wednesday that charges will not be filed against the State College police officer who fatally shot Osaze Osagie. 

Cantorna said officers followed training and were justified in their use of force. That included use of both a Taser and a gun. Cantorna's full report is available online.

“Officer No. 1 was in a life or death situation at the time that he fired, and he had no other option but to shoot in defense of himself and officer No. 2 at the time this occurred," Cantorna said.

Cantorna said he will not be identifying the police officers involved. Officials said racial bias was not a factor in the shooting of Osagie, who was black.

On March 20th, three police officers went to Osagie’s apartment for a mental health check.

The day before, Osagie’s father had reported Osagie missing. Police were told he had a history of schizophrenia and probably was not taking his medication, Cantorna said. He said Osagie’s father was concerned he would take his own life and that he had received a text message that day from Osagie.

“In it, Mr. Osagie stated in part there would be trouble with the police in a little bit, that his fast-approaching deep sleep would result from a struggle between God and evil, the citizens of the U.S. and the government, and that any poor soul whose life he takes today, if any poor soul at all, then may God forgive their sins, if any,” Cantorna said.

Cantorna detailed the chain of events, saying from the first knock on Osagie’s door to shots being fired took less than 30 seconds.

Cantorna said when police went to Osagie’s apartment, an officer asked to come in to talk to him, and Osagie said no. Officers asked him to come out, and he came out with serrated steak knife pointed at Officer No. 1.

The officer drew his service revolver, and ordered Osagie to drop the knife. Osagie reportedly said, “shoot me” at one point. When Osagie ran out of the apartment toward the officer, another officer used a Taser, but Osagie continued.

Officer No. 1 said the knife was raised and, he believed that if he had not fired, he would have been injured or killed. He shot Osagie three times. The first shot went into Osagie’s shoulder and the next two in his back as he turned.

Cantorna pointed to the need for changes in mental health laws in Pennsylvania. The statutes, he said, require someone to reach a mental health crisis, putting themselves or others at risk, before authorities can act.

“It was predictable that when he was off his medication that he would pose a risk to himself and others,” Cantorna said. “On his medication, he is reported to be a kind, thoughtful, forgiving, religious person who wouldn’t hurt anybody.”

Will Slaton, commander of the Heritage Affairs section in the Pennsylvania State Police Equality and Inclusion Office, said any reasonable officer would have reacted the same way. He said there was no perceived racial animus.

“This incident cannot be associated with anything else going on across the country,” Slaton said.

Community members wore T-shirts that said "Justice for Osaze." The report did not seem to satisfy many of them.
Credit Anne Danahy / WPSU
Community members wore T-shirts that said "Justice for Osaze." The report did not seem to satisfy many of them.

After a press conference, Cantorna and Slaton spoke to a community group. Some were wearing T-shirts that said “Justice for Osaze.” The report did not seem to satisfy many.

“A gun and a knife. I’m trying to figure that out,” said Barbara Farmer, a former elementary school principal in the State College Area. 

Farmer was one of those to speak. She said police had information about Osagie and the situation they may have been heading into.

“So, if you know that history, do you go the traditional way to apprehend that person, or do you use some additional processes in your protocol, because you know what’s going on, where you’re going and why you’re going there," Farmer said.

In reaction, protestors blocked a street in downtown State College for a few hours.

In a statement, Osaze Osagie’s parents’ attorneys said, “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.”

In a statement, the State College borough said they are appointing a task force to address concerns about the shooting death.

Anne Danahy has been a reporter at WPSU since fall 2017. Before crossing over to radio, she was a reporter at the Centre Daily Times in State College, Pennsylvania, and she worked in communications at Penn State. She is married with cats.
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