A disarming video: Cellphone footage contradicts police claims in fatal Sacramento shooting
Mann shooting takes center stage in drive for police accountability
The calls for more law enforcement oversight rose to a chorus last week after family members of Joseph Mann, who was shot to death July 11 by Sacramento police, broke their silence at an emotionally charged press conference at Allen Chapel African Methodist Church.
Announcing a new federal lawsuit, Mann’s family members allowed their attorney to show a cellphone video, provided by a witness, that the claim proves Mann was unarmed and not a threat when officers shot him more than a dozen times.
Leaders from several community groups said Mann’s death is the latest reminder that Sacramento needs a more independent and citizen-steered police commission.
Mann was killed walking on Del Paso Boulevard after residents called 911 to report his erratic behavior near businesses. Veteran civil rights attorney John L. Burris is representing Mann’s family in the wrongful death suit and said that “any ordinary person” would have recognized Mann was having a psychological episode and needed mental health professionals called to the scene. Instead, Burris contended, the cellphone video shows police “aggressively” cornered him against a fence before firing on him while his hands were empty and he wasn’t charging.
Burris also showed graphic autopsy photographs to prove the 51-year-old’s body was, in Burris’ words, “literally shredded” by 18 bullets. Burris alleges that the two Sacramento police officers involved ignored standard police protocols when they decided to use lethal force.
The police department named the officers last week as John C. Tennis, on the force since 1990, and Randy R. Lozoya, who joined the force in 1991.
In a public statement issued by the Sacramento Police Department on July 11, authorities said Mann had brandished a knife and appeared to be drawing a gun from his waistband when officers fired. Police also said they had received various 911 calls about a suspect in the area who was possibly armed with a knife or a gun.
Burris and Mann’s family, however, assert the cellphone video now disproves the claim he was holding a knife. Burris emphasized that if the officers truly believed Mann was concealing a gun, they would have approached him in an entirely different manner than what the video depicts, where they’re shown following him at a slow pace for several minutes.
Mann’s family members described him as a person who had worked for Raley’s for 17 years before taking a job with the state of California. They said he began to suffer from mental illness in the wake of his mother’s death three years ago.
Burris blasted police for not allowing Mann’s family to come to the department and view its own video evidence in the case. “We’ve been able to get videos like this from other police departments,” he said.
Hours after the press conference, Sacramento police spokesman Sgt. Bryce Heinlein told SN&R his department understands how deeply incidents like the Mann shooting affect the community, though he stressed detectives have to walk a difficult line between transparency and jeopardizing the overall investigation.
Sacramento Attorney Mark T. Harris, who’s also assisting the Mann family, said that Sacramento Regional Transit Authority appears to have additional video evidence of the shooting—evidence it’s refusing to share the attorneys.
“They’re giving me that same line about how releasing it could hurt the investigation,” Harris said. “How? Are we going to somehow change what’s on their video?”
Critics descended on a Sacramento Community Police Commission meeting Monday to demand the board be given the power of subpoena, stronger investigative abilities and the authority to terminate a police officer’s employment in cases of misconduct. Some attendees also objected to a police union attorney sitting on the commission’s board of directors.
One group participating in the 87 person-strong show of solidarity was Law Enforcement Accountability Directive, or LEAD. The new organization is headed by retired local educator Richard Owen, who said years of being involved in north Sacramento’s community compelled him to take action.
“I joined LEAD because I have sons who have grown into successful, professional men, and yet they’ve still had these run-ins where they’ve been confronted by the police and had guns stuck in their faces,” Owen told SN&R. “And the other reason is that I’ve kept in touch with many of my former students over the years, and some of the stories I’ve heard from them about the police are quite alarming to me. There needs to be real accountability.”