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March, Vigil Planned for Fourth Anniversary of Osagie’s Death

The 3/20 Coalition will host two events to mark the anniversary of Osaze Osagie’s death four years after he was fatally shot by a State College police officer serving a mental health warrant.

A protest outside the State College Municipal Building at noon on Sunday will be followed by a march to the Old Boalsburg Road apartment building where Osagie was killed. At 7 p.m. on Monday, a vigil “to reflect and recommit to seeking justice,” will be held at the Memorial for Black Lives at the Martin Luther King Jr. Plaza on South Fraser Street.

“Osaze should still be here today and what happened to him on [March 20, 2019] was entirely preventable and ultimately unforgivable,” the coalition, which formed as an advocacy group in the wake of Osagie’s death, wrote in a news release. “We must keep his name and his story fresh on our tongues and continue to urge others to join the fight for justice, substantive change and long-term reforms.”

State College Mayor Ezra Nanes also issued a proclamation declaring March 20 “Osaze Osagie Day of Remembrance” in the borough, “to remember and honor the life of Osaze Osagie, who remembers a beloved member of our community.”

“Annually, the date of March 20 is an important moment for the broader State College community to celebrate the life of Osaze Osagie and acknowledge the intersectionality between the movement for Black lives and mental health awareness,” the proclamation states. “It is a time to recognize and participate in the work being done by the 3/20 Coalition and other groups in our community.”

Osagie, a 29-year-old State College resident, had a history of mental illness. On March 19, 2019, his parents, fearing he had stopped taking his medication and was in crisis, called police for assistance when they were unable to find him. The following day, after an acquaintance reported seeing Osaze Osagie walking in the direction of his apartment, three State College police officers responded to serve a mental health warrant.

According to an investigation by Pennsylvania State Police, the situation quickly escalated in the narrow hallway outside Osagie’s apartment. Osagieallegedly ignored commands to drop a steak knife he was holding, charged at the officers with the knife and yelled “shoot me.” One officer deployed a Taser that was ineffective and now former officer M. Jordan Pieniazek shot and killed Osagie while retreating backwards.

Each officer was cleared of wrongdoing by District Attorney Bernie Cantorna following the investigation. Cantorna said the officers were in a “life-or-death situation,” and attempting to back away when Osagie charged at them with the knife. An internal department review also cleared the officers. The state police Heritage Affairs Section concluded no racial bias was involved in the shooting of Osagie, who was Black.

A still-pending civil lawsuit filed in federal court by the Osagie family against the police department and several officers alleges wrongful death, that the shooting was the result of systemic failures in handling mental health issues, that Pieniazek was “unfit for duty,” having just returned to work from rehab, and that a supervising captain ignored warnings that Pieniazek was unstable.

The borough has defended against the lawsuit, saying the shooting was deemed justifiable and that Pieniazek was monitored upon his return to work and showed “no indications” of being unfit for duty.

Those who knew Osagie have said that while he struggled with mental health issues, he was a gentle and community-minded man dedicated to helping others.

college scholarship endowment in his name, spearheaded by a group of community leaders, awarded its first scholarships last year to racially underrepresented State College Area High School students with a commitment to community service. His family also established a memorial scholarship at Penn State to support students with mental health challenges and other disabilities.

Osagie’s death has been a catalyst for change in the borough and Centre County. It led to the formation of a Community Oversight Board for the State College Police Department, multiple external reviews of borough policing, the addition of a social worker program to the department, the creation of a borough diversity, equity and inclusion department, the revival of the Task Force on Policing and Communities of Color and a joint task force that reviewed and made recommendations for the entire breadth of the county’s mental health crisis services.

The 3/20 Coalition, however, says more needs to be done.

“Briefly, members of council were horrified and shocked into finally taking the action to form the Community Oversight Board and implement the social worker to accompany police on 302’s (mental health warrants), but since then, temperatures have cooled and most have sunk back into complacency,” the coalition wrote. “We continue to assert that justice has yet to be served and that not enough has changed in the borough… nor county to prevent this happening again. “