Fighting For Important Causes In State And Federal Courts
Sylvester and Iyunolu Osagie, the parents of Osaze Osagie, filed a Notice of Claim today, indicating their intent to sue the State College Police Department (“SCPD”) and the officers who six months ago shot and killed their then 29-year old son. Sylvester Osagie asked the police to help him find Osaze, so that he could secure treatment for his suicidal son who was suffering a serious mental health crisis. Instead of helping Osaze, an officer shot him three times in the back, killing him.
“The mental health processes in place failed our son. The police procedures also failed our son. And the officers who responded to our son’s apartment failed him as well. We are bringing this case to make sure Osaze is the last person to die under such circumstances,” said Sylvester Osagie.
Details on the Osaze Osagie Shooting in State College, PA
In sum and substance, the Osagie family’s Notice of Claim alleges that Sylvester Osagie was in frequent contact with the police in the hours before the shooting and that he provided the police with detailed information concerning his son’s deteriorating mental health. Mr. Osagie showed high-ranking SCPD supervisors suicidal and threatening texts from Osaze and put them in contact with his mental health providers. Inexcusably, the responding officers were unaware of this critical information prior to making the decision to confront Osaze Osagie. Instead, they treated this situation as if it were a “routine” law enforcement operation, when in fact it was a mental health crisis.
Although the officers knew they were responding to a mental health call, the responding officers made no effort to find out more about Osaze’s situation. They admitted that they made no “plan” regarding how to confront Mr. Osagie in the hallway outside of his apartment, even though they knew that the space was confined and would not be conducive to using the de-escalation techniques necessitated by these circumstances. They failed to call Osaze’s father. They failed to call Osaze’s mental health professionals or any other mental health specialists. The only question the shooting officer asked the dispatch operator was what Osaze was wearing.
“Instead of using standard mental health crisis techniques, the responding officers decided to surprise Osaze, treating the engagement as if they were serving a drug trafficking search warrant,” said Andrew Shubin, a State College civil rights attorney who represents the family. “Osaze died because of a systemic breakdown in the operation of the SCPD and their failure to follow basic safety procedures for interacting with mentally ill people,” said Kathleen Yurchak, who also represents the family.
“Osaze would still be alive today if the police had followed standard procedures for handling mental health emergencies. This tragic loss of life didn’t have to happen; Osaze Osagie did not have to die.” said attorney Andrew G. Celli, Jr., the former Bureau Chief for Civil Rights at the New York Attorney General’s Office, who along with his firm, Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady LLP (“ECBA”), joined the team representing Osaze’s parents. ECBA, a Manhattan law firm, specializes in civil rights and has represented the families of many others killed by the police, including Tamir Rice’s mother.
Liability of Police Officers in Mental Health Interventions
According to Penn State Law Professor Richard Settgast1, a former Centre County Public Defender with vast experience representing clients in mental health related legal proceedings: “There are several police departments across the country that have published directives on how their officers are expected to approach and handle a situation where a person is suffering from a severe mental health disorder. This includes serving mental health warrants. Common across all these mental health directives is the requirement that police officers do not attempt to place themselves in a position that requires taking unnecessary or overly aggressive actions and to communicate in a non-aggressive manner with the person. Without explanation, the police officers who responded to Mr. Osagie’s apartment took aggressive action by placing their finger over the peephole of the door, knocking, and purposefully hiding their identity as law enforcement until the door was opened by Mr. Osagie and he was mere feet from the first officer. There is no policy that I could find in my research that supports the officers’ behavior in making initial contact with Mr. Osagie. It would appear that actions taken by the responding police officers violated these published directives designed to keep both parties safe.”
Dr. Grace Telesco, an expert on crisis intervention who was previously the Commanding Officer of the New York City Police Department’s Police Academy Behavioral Science Unit, agrees that the police failed to follow standard intervention strategies for handling a person with mental illness. Based on a preliminary review of the case, she said: “Osaze’s tragic death was a direct result of a series of failures on the part of the police. There was a clear breakdown in communication as evidenced by the officers in the precinct not providing the responding officers with critical information about Osaze’s mental health. Despite knowing that they were responding to a mental health situation, the responding officers failed to gather pertinent intelligence. As a result, they unnecessarily escalated the situation.” Dr. Telesco is working with the family.
Kathleen V. Yurchak, firstname.lastname@example.org, (814) 237-4100
Andrew J. Shubin, email@example.com, (814) 867-3115
Andrew G. Celli, Jr., firstname.lastname@example.org, (212) 763-5000
1. The opinions expressed by Professor Settgast’s are his own and do not reflect the opinions of Penn State University or Penn State Law.