ESCONDIDO, Calif. – Mourners gathered Friday at the scene of a deadly police shooting that took the life of 59-year-old Steven Olson, a homeless man who was known to authorities as “mentally unstable” and had advanced toward the officer with a metal bar.
At Friday’s gathering, advocates said the incident didn’t have to result in Olson’s death.
“They were trained on all these different tactics, on de-escalating and doing all these things, and I didn’t see any of it. The guy got out right away with his gun out,” said Mike Olson, Steven’s nephew.
“I’m here for my uncle. I’m here to fight for him and I’m glad all you guys showed up for him. He didn’t deserve this,” he told the crowd.
In his review of the body camera video from the deadly shooting, Escondido Police Chief Ed Varso notes that the officer who shot Olson had repeatedly told him to drop the bar and delivered several “use of force warnings,” eventually firing from about 7 feet away.
“Steven, you’re gonna get shot,” Officer Chad Moore says at one point in the video.
“I know and you’re gonna get hit,” Olson replied.
A few hours earlier, another officer had approached Olson — who was accused of hitting cars with the metal bar in a parking lot — before deciding to let him go when Olson spoke incoherently and then ran away.
Cameron Gary, a retired law enforcement officer who has worked in the San Diego County District Attorney’s office, told FOX 5 it was difficult to say whether the second officer could have handled the situation without shooting Olson. He suggested a Taser may have been a viable option.
“Would I have shot in this situation? I can’t say that I would have, but I can’t say that I wouldn’t have either,” Gary said. “Would I have thought a Taser would have been a bad option or a wrong option in that case? No, I don’t.”
Michael McConnell, a homelessness advocate and frequent critic of law enforcement’s handling of homeless San Diegans, has been vocal about the shooting, saying it reflected a failure, in part, by local government to provide housing and services that could lead to rehabilitation for people like Olson.