HARRISBURG - On Wednesday, an officer employed by the State College Police Department in Centre County shot and killed Osaze Osagie, a 29-year-old African-American man who appeared to be having a mental health crisis. Officers were serving a mental health warrant, which is issued when a person may be subject to involuntary commitment under Pennsylvania law, on Osagie at his apartment.
To date, State College borough officials have offered very little detail about what happened, while the Pennsylvania State Police and the district attorney’s office investigate. The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania issued a statement in response, calling for transparency and accountability in this case. The following can be attributed to Reggie Shuford, executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania:
“Osaze’s death was a senseless tragedy. Our hearts are with his family and friends in their time of mourning.
“Police violence against people of color is a symptom of our country’s inability to come to grips with how racial inequality poisons life in America for Black and brown people. Twenty-five to 50 percent of all police killings involve people with disabilities. Osaze’s death is another example of how police acting as first responders for people who are in the midst of a mental health crisis can turn tragic. We need mental health professionals to be the first responders to people who are having mental health crises – not police.
“The public deserves full disclosure of the details of how Osaze died, including the name of the officer who fired the fatal shot, any video and audio recordings that are available, and 911 telephone recordings.
“The State College Police Department also owes the public full disclosure on how its officers are trained to respond to calls about people with mental health disabilities. The first step in any training should be to bring in mental health professionals to respond first. Police still need training in how to de-escalate. But they will never have the skills of a mental health professional. Police officers are not social workers, and they’re not psychiatrists. If officers in the State College PD have had training for intervening in a crisis, then it failed in this case. If they have not had the training, then the responsibility for that falls upon the leadership of the department and the borough. Either way, they failed Osaze Osagie.
“The tragedy of police violence in America will end only when public officials take it seriously. It’s time for the epidemic of Americans being killed by police, who are supposed to protect and serve, to stop.”