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Chinedu Okobi Death: Internal Investigation Clears San Mateo Deputies

MILLBRAE (CBS SF) – The San Mateo County sheriff's deputies who killed Chinedu Okobi last year were cleared of any violations of department policy, according to an internal affairs report released by the county on Thursday.

Sheriff's Sgt. Jonathan Sebring exonerated the four deputies and one sergeant after an investigation that took more than a year.

The deputies were previously cleared of criminal charges by the San Mateo County District Attorney's Office in March. The results of the internal investigation ensure that the deputies will face no discipline by the sheriff's office either.

Okobi, 36, was stopped in the 1400 block of El Camino Real in Millbrae on Oct. 3, 2018. According to video released by the district attorney's office, Deputy Joshua Wang had approached Okobi in a patrol car allegedly for jaywalking and Okobi crossed the street outside of a crosswalk apparently to get away from Wang.

Millbrae Taser death
Chinedu Okobi is seen on the ground as San Mateo County sheriffs deputies attempt to restrain him. (San Mateo County Sheriffs Office. )

Several other deputies then approached Okobi. Wang deployed a Taser and the deputies ended up in a violent struggle with Okobi where they used batons and pepper spray in addition to multiple Taser deployments.

An autopsy found that Okobi had died from cardiac arrest.

Civil rights attorney John Burris, who filed a lawsuit on behalf of the Okobi family earlier this year, said that there were several violations of policy from his perspective. He said that the initial stop was illegal and a result of racial profiling and that the use of the Taser was improper.

"Those are clear violations from our perspective," he said.

"I'm not surprised in the decision," Burris said.  "It is consistent with police departments protecting its officers."

The internal affairs investigation evaluated whether the deputies violated the department's use of force policy, baton policy, pepper spray policy, Taser policy and generally whether the deputies conducted themselves professionally and according to department standards.

Wang, who deployed a Taser seven times during the incident in addition to using a baton and pepper spray, was found to have acted reasonably and lawfully in using force to effect an arrest for jaywalking.

The other deputies involved—John DeMartini, Alyssa Lorenzatti, Bryan Watt and Sgt. David Weidner—were also exonerated.

The incident was the third Taser-related death in San Mateo County last year and spurred calls for a moratorium on their use by law enforcement.  While the sheriff's office has resisted pressure to discontinue use of the weapons, it is in the process of revising its use of force policy.

The new policy advises against Tasing a single suspect more than three times as it leads to a higher risk of cardiac arrest, although it still allows it during unspecified "exceptional circumstances."

At a hearing on the new policy earlier this year, some activists criticized the policy for the vague exception, saying it would allow deputies to violate the policy with impunity.

The sheriff's office earlier this month distributed a revised draft to the Board of Supervisors and is expected to formally adopt the new policy later this month.

© Copyright 2019 CBS Broadcasting Inc. and Bay City News Service. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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