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Unarmed Morehouse Grad Dies After Repeated Taser Shocks from California Police

A prominent Facebook executive is calling for an investigation after her brother died during a violent police encounter in a San Francisco suburb earlier this month.

Speaking to USA Today, Ebele Okobi said her brother, 36-year-old Chinedu Valentine Okobi, was likely suffering a psychotic break when he died Oct. 3 after being repeatedly shocked by tasers by San Mateo County Sheriff’s deputies. He had a history of mental illness, she said, and was unarmed at the time of the incident.

Chinedu Okobi

Chinedu Okobi’s sister said he managed his condition until December or January, when she fears he stopped taking his medication. (Photo courtesy of the Okobi family)

Ebele Okobi, who serves as Facebook’s director of public policy for Africa, is now demanding to know if the deputies were properly trained in crisis intervention and why they continued deploying their tasers rather than seeking medical help for her brother. News of Chinedu Okobi’s death hit close to home for the tech giant, as the incident unfolded less than 20 miles from the company’s Silicon Valley headquarters.

Ebele Okobi, 44, said she’s received an outpouring of love and support from top executives, including Facebook’s chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg.

“I think this has helped people who aren’t African-American and who aren’t in the African- American community recognize this is something that every Black person faces,” Okobi, who resides in London, told the newspaper. “I definitely think within Facebook, for a lot of my friends and my colleagues, there’s been this realization and this recognition that this is a significant national problem.

“There’s a part of me that’s angry that this is the reality for everybody Black I know and that people can live completely oblivious to that reality,” she added in her remarks to the newspaper.

In a news release, the sheriff’s office said Chinedu Okobi was darting in and out of traffic on a busy highway in Millbrae, Calif., when a deputy first encountered him that day. Authorities said the 36-year-old dad and Morehouse College alum “immediately assaulted” a deputy upon being approached, prompting at least two deputies to fire their stun guns between three and four times.

The successive shocks sent Chinedu Okobi into cardiac arrest, and he later died.

San Mateo County District Attorney Stephen Wagstaffe, who’s investigating the death, said  deputies first approached Chinedu Okobi because they were concerned for his safety. He said Okobi resisted officers, however, and a physical altercation ensued. No gunfire was used in the incident.

Police have since released the names of the deputies involved: Alyssa Lorenzatti, Joshua Wang, Bryan Watt, John DeMartini, and Sgt. David Weidner.

Wagstaffe said there are also several videos of the harrowing incident, including police dash cam video, surveillance footage and witness cellphone video, though none captured the entirety of the encounter. Attorney John Burris, who’s representing Okobi’s family, said one passerby recalled seeing Chinedu Okobi seated on the ground with his chin resting on his chest, seemingly unconscious with foam covering his mouth as an officer propped him up with his knee.

Despite officials’ account of Okobi’s behavior that day, Burris argued that he didn’t deserve to die. The family is now calling for the public release of all video from the incident.

“They are entitled to that as a grieving family, and I grieve for them,” said Wagstaffe, adding that he hopes to release the footage within 45 days. “It doesn’t matter how it came about, this family lost a loved one.”

The district attorney said he’s also looking into whether deputies committed a crime by using excessive force. The medical examiner’s office is still working to determine whether the tasers contributed to Okobi’s death.

Ebele Okobi told USA Today her brother began struggling with mental illness when he started hearing voices, after which one doctor diagnosed him as schizophrenic and another as bipolar. She said her brother managed his illness and held down a steady job until December or January, when she said she feared he stopped taking his medication.

“I didn’t think this could happen to someone I know,” she said of his death.

Watch more in the clip below.

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