Fighting For Important Causes In State And Federal Courts
For Immediate Release
Contact: Andrew Shubin, Shubin Law (814) 867-3115; Kathleen Yurchak, Steinbacher, Goodall & Yurchak (814) 237-4100, and; Andrew Celli, Emery Celli Brinckerhoff Abady Ward & Maazel LLP, (212) 763-5000.
Today, Osaze Osagie’s family filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the Borough of State College and ten “John Doe” State College Police Department (“SCPD”) officers in an effort to address the systemic failures that resulted in a State College police officer shooting and killing their son during a March 20, 2019, mental health encounter. According to the family’s legal team — which includes State College lawyers Kathleen Yurchak and Andrew Shubin and Andrew Celli, Earl Ward and David Berman from the New York City-based Emery Celli Brinckerhoff Abady Ward & Maazel law firm — “The Osagie family files this case today with deep resolve, but also with a heavy heart. They are determined to seek justice for their beloved son which includes holding the Borough and SCPD accountable for their systemic failings in creating and maintaining a broken policing system that caused his untimely death. But they have a heavy heart because as long-time community residents, they are deeply disappointed that their extraordinary efforts to resolve these issues without resort to litigation have been rejected.”
The suit alleges that Mr. Osagie’s father requested the SCPD’s assistance in safely securing help for his 29-year old son whose was in the midst of a medication-related mental health crisis and had communicated alarming suicidal threats. According to the complaint, instead of ensuring Osaze’s safety, the Borough and the SCPD violated the Constitution’s excessive force prohibition when an officer repeatedly shot him point blank in the back and side. The suit also alleges that the Borough and the SCPD violated the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 by discriminating against Mr. Osagie based upon his known mental health history.
The Osagie-family hopes that this lawsuit will draw attention to long-standing and deeply-rooted policies and practices that led to their son being one of the1,324 fatal police shootings of individuals in the throes of a mental health crisis over the past six years. About a quarter of all fatal police shootings involve citizens suffering from such a crisis. The problem is more severe in small cities like State College where such shootings are 39% more likely to occur than in larger cities. The lawsuit also seeks compensatory and punitive damages.
Mr. Osagie’s parents, Sylvester Osagie, Ph.D., and Iyun Osagie, Ph.D, allege that the State College police shot their son while they were supposed to executing a mental-health warrant to ensure his safety. According to the Complaint, Osaze Osagie, was autistic and suffered from chronic and significant mental health ailments that were successfully managed by medication. Mr. Osagie was a devout Christian with deep and decades-long ties to his church and to the State College community.
The so-called “302 warrant” obtained by Sylvester Osagie authorized taking Osaze into custody for the purpose of getting him needed mental-health treatment. Sylvester Osagie went to the SCPD on March 19, 2019, seeking their assistance in getting help for Osaze who he believed had stopped taking his medication and was in the midst of a mental health crisis. The next day, an officer shot Osaze Osagie three times in front or his apartment’s doorway. He died at the scene. Osaze Osagie is survived by his parents and three siblings.
The 38 page federal complaint alleges that the Borough was “deliberately indifferent” to Mr. Osagie’s constitutional and statutory rights – an indifference that directly resulted in his death. Among other things, the suit alleges that the Borough’s Police Department:
- Dispatched officers to arrest Mr. Osagie without informing them of the nature of his mental illness and the challenges it might create – and allowed officers to respond to the call ignorant of Mr. Osagie’s condition and likely reactions to police involvement;
- Chose a patrolman who knew nothing about Osaze, his mental health conditions, or the circumstances that lead to the issuance of the mental health warrant, to lead the Department’s mental health crisis response;
- Permitted the patrolman, an assisting officer, and a high ranking supervisor, to respond to the crisis without requiring them to coordinate and plan the confrontation;
- Violated SCPD policy by failing to dispatch a mental health counselor or professional to respond to Mr. Osagie’s apartment alongside police in order to serve the warrant and safely secure Mr. Osagie.
- Failed to abide by accepted mental health “critical incident” officer training standards and protocols;
- Permitted the responding officers to fail to employ, or even consider, de-escalation tactics or other common-sense means to avoid a violent confrontation, including contacting Mr. Osagie’s father, who was nearby and searching for his son;
- Permitted officers to engage in tactics likely to provoke a confrontation with Mr. Osagie including: covering the peephole on his apartment door in order to catch him by surprise, and; failing to retreat and consider other tactics when Mr. Osagie refused to exit his apartment, and;
- Tolerated a history of excessive force against mentally ill people, including the disproportionate use of TASERs on people with mental illnesses.
Copies of the complaint are available at: https://www.shubinlaw.com/wp-content/uploads/FILED-COMPLAINT-Osagie.pdf