A clean kill: District attorney omits troubling video evidence in clearing Sacramento cops who shot Joseph Mann
12-page review cites officers’ concern for possible hostage situation they inadvertently created
The Sacramento County District Attorney’s Office last week cleared two officers of gunning down a mentally disturbed homeless man after they failed to hit him with their squad car.
Veteran Sacramento police officers John C. Tennis and Randy R. Lozoya will face no criminal charges in the July 11, 2016, fatal shooting that left 50-year-old Joseph Mann dead on a sidewalk with 14 bullets in him and stoked community distrust in how law enforcement applies its discretionary authority to use deadly force. The DA’s office announced the decision January 27.
Video footage released by the police department under community and political pressure revealed that Tennis and Lozoya first tried to strike Mann twice with their patrol vehicle before chasing him down and opening fire along a side of closed business fronts.
In its 12-page review, the DA’s office concluded that Tennis and Lozoya were in their legal right to apply deadly force, saying the officers feared for the safety of a female bystander they thought Mann “was going to stab or take … as a hostage.”
But the review omits or downplays crucial events revealed by the video footage, making no mention of the fact that Mann ran near the female bystander because he was trying to avoid getting hit by a police car.
Attorney Mark T. Harris, a co-founder of the local Law Enforcement Accountability Directive, or LEAD, called the DA’s portrait of events “absolutely ridiculous.”
“That is Disneyland … Hogwarts, all rolled into one. That is absolute fantasy,” Harris told SN&R.
For critics of Sacramento’s law enforcement community, the decision not to charge Tennis or Lozoya in the face of damaging video evidence casts doubt on the DA’s pledge to act as an impartial check on police powers and raises questions about the office’s past reviews of officer-involved shootings, none of which have resulted in criminal charges for local cops.
One of the loudest detractors was a former Sacramento City Council member now occupying higher office.
“Like many Sacramentans who saw the video, I question the conclusion by the D.A. that police acted within reason in the shooting and killing of Joseph Mann,” Assemblyman Kevin McCarty said in a January 27 statement. “For far too long, there has been distrust surrounding police shootings and the decisions by local D.A.’s that work closely with police officers. This decision, coupled with the decision of Ezell Ford in Los Angeles, is yet another example of why we need an independent investigation for an officer involved shooting where a civilian is killed.”
McCarty’s statement pledged legislation this week proposing that officer-involved deaths be investigated by independent third parties, similar to policies established in Wisconsin, New York and Illinois following similar controversies.
In the case of Mann, police were summoned to a North Sacramento apartment complex by worried neighbors who saw Mann throwing a knife in the air and speculated that he might be armed with a gun, which wasn’t true. But the potentiality of a gun hidden under Mann’s baggy clothing or in a backpack he had with him wasn’t ruled out by officers until after he lay dying on a sidewalk.
In the minutes leading up to his shooting, witnesses described Mann’s behavior as erratic, saying he took fighting stances, made odd statements and urinated on himself.
Armed with the same limited information, the police response varied depending on the officers.</p. <p>First to arrive was a marked SUV occupied by officers Frank Reyes and Bryan Gomez, identified in the DA’s review, who made several attempts at opening a dialog with Mann while they slowly pursued him from a safe distance through a residential neighborhood.
Mann had continued to wander from the apartment building on Lochbrae Road onto Southgate Road and toward Del Paso Boulevard, periodically stopping and hunching into a fighting stance in response to police commands to surrender. At one point, he threw a cup at Reyes and Gomez’s vehicle. Mann later ran at a different police SUV, raising his arms in a menacing manner only to drop them and run past.
That feint may have been the first thing Tennis and Lozoya witnessed as they sped down Del Paso Boulevard toward Mann, according to dashcam video. According to recorded audio from their vehicle—first reported by SN&R—Tennis tells Lozoya, “I’m going to hit him.”
Lozoya responds by saying, “Fuck this guy.”
The squad car, driven by Tennis, then accelerates at Mann twice, barely missing him each time. During the second attempt, Mann sprints out of the way and over a median, briefly coming within proximity of a female bystander.</p. <p>In a January 27 release, the DA’s office states that Mann “rushed directly at a civilian while crossing the road, coming within approximately one foot of her and close enough to stab her or take her hostage.” The office’s 12-page review pushes the distortion further, claiming that Tennis and Lozoya only tried to strike Mann with their car to save the woman standing on the median:
“As Mann proceeded eastbound across Del Paso Boulevard, he ran directly at the woman on the median. Officer Lozoya opened his car door and was about to step out. As Mann approached within a few feet of the woman, Officer Tennis feared that Mann would stab her or take her hostage, so he called out to Officer Lozoya not to exit. Officer Tennis drove straight at Mann attempting to hit him with the car a second time.”
The DA’s office declined additional comment on the matter, citing an internal policy.
Advocates for law enforcement reform were sharply critical of the DA’s findings.
“Overall, it’s a disgusting decision,” said Tanya Faison, founder of the local chapter of Black Lives Matter, which scheduled a February 1 protest outside of City Hall. “They hunted him down.”
Harris called the decision “insulting,” and said District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert ignored the “clear bias” that Tennis and Lozoya “evidenced by their statements and action and conduct.”
Responding to public pressure, the Sacramento City Council in November approved a package of police accountability measures. Among them, a process was created for releasing video evidence of police shootings and the Office of Public Safety Accountability was expanded and placed under the purview of the city council. City officials have also pledged to find resources for expanding the use of nonlethal weaponry like Tasers.
Lozoya was armed with a Taser the day of the Mann shooting, but opted not to use it after deciding it wouldn’t be effective against Mann’s baggy clothing, the DA’s review states. Another reason could have been that Lozoya actually dropped his Taser when he exited the squad car and fell, suffering an undisclosed injury.
An eyewitness who saw the shooting from behind the window of a stopped light-rail train previously told SN&R that Mann posed no threat to the officers who shot him.
“He turned around and they were screaming at him—something—and he looked over. And then they shot him,” said Mary Walsh Allmond. “I don’t know what he was, but he didn’t seem violent then.”
According to the DA’s review, Tennis fired eight rounds and Lozoya fired 10, and continued to fire “until Mann fell to the ground and was no longer a threat.”
Citing an autopsy report, the review says bullets struck the left side of Mann’s chest and abdomen, as well as his groin, hip, legs and feet. The pattern of wounds show the officers continued to fire as Mann fell to the ground, with nine bullets hitting his front side and five entering from his back.
Tennis and Lozoya are currently on modified duty as the police department conducts an internal affairs investigation, said Officer Linda Matthew, a department spokeswoman.
In a released statement, Mayor Darrell Steinberg said he would be “laser focused” on the outcome. “If the internal investigation concludes officers were following policy, then it is past time for us to change those policies,” Steinberg said. “There must be accountability.”
In August, the family of Mann filed a wrongful death lawsuit in federal court against the city and its police department. A jury trial is tentatively set for September 2018.
Harris is working with the family of Dazion Flenaugh, whose fatal police shooting in April was also ruled justified by the DA.
“If the only recourse that a citizen has is civil, that is a sad state of affairs,” said Harris, whose group was created in response to the Mann shooting. “We want to make sure we have the same standard for … someone who’s behind a gun when he’s wearing a bandana to someone who’s behind a gun wearing a badge. And right now we don’t have that.”