San Mateo County, Calif., has agreed to pay $4.5 million to the family of a Black man who died in 2018 after a sheriff’s deputy repeatedly used a Taser on him during a struggle that began when law enforcement officers saw the man jaywalking on a busy street, the county confirmed on Tuesday.
The man, Chinedu Valentine Okobi, 36, died on Oct. 3, 2018, after the struggle that day with deputies from the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Department, who had seen him walking in and out of traffic on a busy street in Millbrae, about 15 miles south of downtown San Francisco, officials said at the time. Video made public in 2019 showed one of the deputies using his Taser several times against Mr. Okobi, before he was restrained and became unresponsive. Officials said Mr. Okobi died of cardiac arrest.
In 2019, the family of Mr. Okobi, a father and college graduate, filed two federal lawsuits, one on behalf of his mother, and one on behalf of his daughter, alleging that the county and the law enforcement officers involved in the episode had violated Mr. Okobi’s civil rights and wrongfully caused his death, according to documents filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.
The settlement between the family and county was reached in August, but became public on Tuesday when The San Francisco Standard, which said it had obtained access to the documents through a public records request, wrote about it.
Michelle Durand, a spokeswoman for San Mateo County, confirmed by email that the settlement had been reached. “It is certainly the largest law enforcement-related settlement in anyone’s memory,” she said, adding that the $4.5 million is covered by the county’s insurance.
The news came amid renewed conversation surrounding police brutality in light of the death of Tyre Nichols, a 29-year-old Black man who died last month after being beaten by police in Memphis.
John Burris, the Oakland-based civil rights attorney who represented Mr. Okobi’s mother, said that while the family was content with the settlement, it had always been more concerned with reforms in the use of Tasers by police.
Mr. Okobi’s death helped prompt a review by San Mateo County in 2019 into its use of Tasers, Mr. Burris said by phone Tuesday. “It really wasn’t about money.” He said he believed that the officers involved had targeted Mr. Okobi as a Black man, and that the county had failed to acknowledged that.
“It never would have happened,” Mr. Burris said, “if they had not been racially profiling him.”
In the aftermath of Mr. Okobi’s death, the San Mateo County district attorney, Steve Wagstaffe, called for an investigation into the circumstances surrounding Mr. Okobi’s death, but no criminal charges were filed against the officers. Four of the sheriff’s deputies were also cleared in 2019 of violating a sheriff’s office policy.
On Tuesday, Mr. Wagstaffe’s office declined to comment on the settlement. The San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
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