More than six weeks after a police officer shot him dead on the streets of Curtis Park, Sean Ogle’s body lies cold as stone at the Sacramento County morgue.
Shaken residents of the upscale neighborhood where the shooting took place have managed to put it behind them. The officer who fired the fatal shots into Ogle’s chest on Sept. 6 is back on duty. But Ogle’s friends cannot get beyond what happened that Tuesday afternoon on a busy stretch of 24th Street near Broadway.
They are haunted by whether they could have done anything to help Ogle deal with his spiraling mental health. They wonder if the officer had to kill the “teddy bear” of a man whose weapon was a child’s baseball bat.
They have been unable to properly mourn their friend or fully come to grips with his death, they said, because Ogle’s family has yet to identify his body and allow it to be released to a funeral home.
“I feel so powerless and sad for Sean,” said Rebecca McGuire, who met Ogle about five years ago through local musicians they both followed. “Sean was not someone you would imagine would die this way. I just can’t understand it.”
Police said Officer Brian Laird, an eight-year veteran of the Sacramento force, fired the fatal shots after Ogle threatened the officer with a baseball bat he had used minutes earlier to bash an ATM and a restaurant window.
“The subject suddenly stopped and faced the officer, cocked the baseball bat as if he were going to swing it and advanced on the officer,” said police spokesman Sgt. Andrew Pettit. Fearing for his safety, Pettit said, Laird shot Ogle in the chest and pelvis.
Some eyewitnesses have offered differing accounts.
One is a teenager who was waiting for his mother outside a smog station a short distance from where the shooting played out. The teen, who was later interviewed by police with his mother, told The Bee that Ogle was standing still and his arms were at his side before the gunshots. He said Laird fired at least three bullets before Ogle crumpled to the ground.
The youth and his mother said he shared the same account with police.
Another man who claimed to be a witness, Tony Catelli, first told the news media that Ogle had dropped the bat before the officer fired, but according to police he later changed his story. His phone has since been disconnected and he could not be located for comment.
Police said they have other witnesses who support the official account. They declined to discuss the witness interviews in detail, saying the case was still under investigation.
‘As sweet as can be’
The shooting marked a dramatic end to a life that friends said had been spinning out of control.
Ogle, 32, grew up in Sacramento and attended Sacramento High School, friends said. His mother and sister live in town but did not respond to numerous requests for an interview. A friend of the family’s, Paul Westrup, said Ogle’s relatives are “in denial” about his death and believe he has left the country.
At one point in his life, Ogle had a live-in girlfriend, a red Mustang and a good job in carpet cleaning, friends said. He wore sharp clothes, leather jackets and hats.
“He was as sweet as can be,” said McGuire. Ogle, a math whiz who enjoyed kayaking and mountain biking, was the first person friends called for help with moving and handyman projects, she said.
But schizophrenia and bipolar disorder could disrupt his thinking, friends said, especially when he was without his prescription medications. They said they noticed an escalation of his symptoms in the past year.
“About a year ago, the mental illness hit full force,” said Westrup, and Ogle’s behavior became more bizarre.
He broke up with his girlfriend and had a hard time keeping jobs. He heard voices and developed a penchant for wandering at night, “following lights in the sky” that he believed held spiritual significance. He was twice arrested for loitering. He began to dabble in hard drugs, and was awaiting a court date for a possession arrest.
A few days before he was killed, Ogle was fired from a carpet-cleaning job and was semi-homeless, Westrup said. He was “couch hopping” in various places, and told Westrup he was worried about his mental state. He needed medication and counseling, but was frustrated by waits at county facilities.
“He knew he needed help, but he had no money, no health insurance, nothing,” said Westrup. “I told him, ‘You’ve got to come up with a plan.’ I just wonder if any of us could have done something to save him.”
Frustration and anger
The weekend before he died, Ogle stayed at his friend Manuel Chavez’s apartment at 24th and X streets. “He just seemed broken,” Chavez said. “He said he would help me clean the apartment, but instead he just laid around.”
On Tuesday morning, after an argument with another roommate over some leftover barbecue, Ogle grabbed Chavez’s son’s metal T-ball bat and charged out of the apartment.
His first stop may have been a small market at 24th and Second Avenue, where an employee said he tried to buy ice cream and soda with an EBT card, an electronic version of food stamps. The employee, who declined to give his name, said Ogle got angry because “he didn’t have any money” on the card.
He used the bat to smack an ATM inside the store after trying to withdraw cash from the machine. Then he went outside and bashed a window at Crepeville restaurant. Shortly after that, police responded to a call about a man wielding a baseball bat, said Pettit, the police spokesman.
When Laird arrived on his motorcycle, Ogle was standing near 24th Street and Barnett Avenue. Pettit said the officer drew his gun and ordered Ogle to drop the bat, but Ogle refused and continued to walk north on 24th toward Broadway. Ogle turned and threatened the officer, Pettit said, and Laird fired.
After Ogle fell, dozens of officers converged on the scene, closing off the street and circling Ogle until an ambulance arrived. He later was pronounced dead.
“My friend got shot over having a baseball bat?” Chavez said later. “He was sober when he left the house. He was hungry. He was frustrated. He had to die for that?”
But Pettit said a bat of any size can be a deadly weapon.
“An officer doesn’t have to wait until someone attacks him to apply deadly force,” he said. “If that bat had the potential to hurt the officer, that’s a deadly weapon. One strike to the head with that bat could kill him.”
Contrary to what “people see on TV,” Pettit said, officers are not trained to stop an armed suspect with a shot to the arm or leg. They shoot to kill, because an injured suspect “could still grab an officer’s weapon and use it against him.”
Sacramento police officers are required to carry either pepper spray or Tasers in addition to their service weapons, Pettit said. But Laird may have been unable to use them in the heat of a confrontation.
“It’s a fast, fast decision that most people can’t imagine having to make,” said Pettit.
Investigative units within the Police Department, along with the city’s Office of Public Safety Accountability, are looking into Laird’s use of force that day.
Meanwhile, the clock is ticking at the county morgue.
“We’re obligated to hold the body at least 30 days,” said assistant coroner Kim Burson, adding that her office has contacted Ogle’s family several times. “After that, we consider the body abandoned and can go ahead with cremation.”
The lonely scenario troubles Ogle’s friends, who are not authorized to claim his body.
“It might be the worst part of all of this,” Chavez said softly. “It’s like Sean’s just a faceless guy who made the news because he was shot by a cop. That’s not right.”