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San Mateo Co. DA to release video of Taser death

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As the investigation into the Taser stun gun death of Chinedu Okobi by five San Mateo County sheriff’s deputies nears its conclusion, San Mateo County District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe said Wednesday that he is working on a technological solution to make all relevant video publicly available on the Internet.

Wagstaffe said he is committed to releasing an edited arrangement of video from three sources: deputies’ dash camera video, bystander video and surveillance video from a nearby business.

Wagstaffe said:

“There’s no one video that captures it beginning to end.”

In all, he said he expects to release about 25 minutes of video. While the dash cam was left running for hours, he said most of it isn’t relevant to the investigation, but he would make the full videos available upon request. The video will likely be available via his office’s website when it is released sometime later in January or in early February.

It would be the same video that Wagstaffe screened for Okobi’s family, he said. After viewing the video, Okobi’s sister, Facebook’s public policy director for Africa Ebele Okobi, publicly accused the sheriff’s office of lying about the circumstances surrounding her brother’s death, heightening scrutiny of the case.

Chinedu Okobi was Tased by five sheriff’s deputies on El Camino Real in Millbrae on Oct. 3. The sheriff’s office said he was “running in and out of traffic” and then attacked a deputy. But Ebele Okobi said he was on the sidewalk when a deputy noticed him while driving and shouted at him. She said he put his hands in the air, but then tried to run when a deputy grabbed him.

It was one of three deaths involving law enforcement Tasers in San Mateo County in 2018. In August, 55-year-old Ramzi Saad was killed in a confrontation with Redwood City police officers. Last January, Warren Ragudo died after a Taser deployment by a Daly City police officer. Wagstaffe has already declined to file criminal charges against any of the officers in those cases.

Because of the unusual number of deaths involving Tasers, civil rights attorney John Burris, who is representing the Okobi family, publicly called for a countywide moratorium on Tasers and for investigators to release any video of Okobi’s death.

Burris said in December:

“I have seen the video. It certainly raised real questions in my own mind about the initial stop, what was the legitimate basis of the stop … The guy’s walking down the street seemingly minding his own business. It looked to me like the police initiated contact.”

Because of the attention to the case, Wagstaffe hired a use of force expert to review the investigation and make recommendations before he makes a final decision on whether to seek criminal charges against the sheriff’s deputies.

Wagstaffe said Wednesday that in mid-December, he turned over all of the investigation materials to the expert, a former law enforcement officer who now provides training in use of force and operates a consulting business for law enforcement agencies. The consultant indicated that his analysis would take until mid-February at the latest.

Once he has that analysis, Wagstaffe will review and then announce his decision on whether to charge the deputies. He said he will release the video whether he decides to charge the deputies or not.

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