Hit and gun: Sacramento cops who fatally shot Joseph Mann seemingly tried to run him over first, video reveals
‘We’ll get him,’ officer tells partner shortly before mentally ill man shot 14 times
The two veteran officers who pumped Joseph Mann with 14 bullets seemingly tried to hit the mentally distressed black man with their patrol vehicle—twice—before gunning him down on a north Sacramento sidewalk this past July, SN&R has confirmed.
Officers John C. Tennis and Randy R. Lozoya occupied the marked sedan whose dashcam recorded it accelerating southwest on Del Paso Boulevard in what appeared to be an attempt to strike Mann, according to an analysis of multiple videos obtained last week.
While police have declined to answer specific questions about the Mann case due to pending litigation, the videos seem to contradict the department’s initial statement that its officers resorted to lethal force only after de-escalation tactics failed.
The in-car dashcam recording was one of four videos that the Sacramento Police Department released last week under pressure from the public and elected officials. Yet, while the contents of the videos have been out for just over a week now, the revelations about Tennis and Lozoya’s actions haven’t been reported until now.
After twice narrowly missing Mann, their patrol car stops and the doors open. Tennis and Lozoya briefly jog into the frame, arms extended. Moments later, a barrage of gunfire—18 shots in all—can be heard, followed by moaning. Mann was later pronounced dead at a hospital.
Both officers are named as defendants in a federal lawsuit filed last month against the city by Mann’s relatives. During a September 21 press conference, held near the scene of the shooting, Robert Mann said the videos prove officers overreacted and that there was time to resolve the situation with his younger brother still breathing.
“[The police] lied flat-out to me,” Robert said. “They told me my brother was aggressive, my brother was threatening police officers and he was coming at them. And that they had no time to make any decision other than to shoot my brother.”
Along with audio recordings of two 911 calls and an earlier cellphone video recorded by a bystander, the footage released last week creates a mosaic of Mann’s final moments and show the troubled 50-year-old did not appear to pose an imminent threat to police or the public when Tennis and Lozoya opened fire.
Instead, the footage shows the veteran officers appearing to hasten a violent confrontation almost from the moment they arrive on scene.
“They just shot this man,” said John C. Burris, the Mann family’s attorney. “You can’t force a confrontation, shoot your way out of it and claim you were justified.”
Police were responding that morning to reports of an armed subject behaving erratically outside of an apartment complex on Lochbrae Road. According to audio recordings released last week, at least one caller claimed seeing a gun in Mann’s waistband. A second caller said she only saw a knife, but heard from her neighbor that Mann possessed a firearm.
“I didn’t see the gun,” the caller told the dispatcher.
No gun would be found, and Burris believes that responding officers were quickly able to dispel the rumor of one. “They really didn’t act like they thought he had a gun,” the attorney contended.
Indeed, two different sets of dashcam footage reveal starkly different approaches to an unfolding situation.
The officers who first arrived on scene seemed to display patience and restraint, slowly following Mann in their vehicle as they repeatedly ordered him to drop his pocket knife and surrender. The officers even maneuvered to avoid striking Mann after he threw a bottle at their vehicle, with one officer telling Mann through the loud speaker at one point, “Sir, we don’t want to hurt you. Drop the knife.”
Statistics provided by the department show that its officers do, in fact, know how to deescalate potentially volatile situations.
At a September 20 press conference, retiring police Chief Sam Somers Jr. said less than 1 percent of the approximately 14,000 arrests his officers effected last year involved any type of force.
In an email, department spokesman Sgt. Bryce Heinlein said the success rate was even better, at less than 1 percent of approximately 15,000 arrests, but cautioned against making specific comparisons.
“I can tell you that we deal with despondent and armed subjects that don’t resolve with deaths on just about a daily basis,” Heinlein wrote.
As for using a car as a police weapon, Heinlein said officers and recruits “discuss different types of force options” to deadly force encounters, “from the tools they carry to the vehicle they are driving.”
Although both 911 callers told dispatchers they believed Mann was experiencing mental illness, it’s unclear whether that information was communicated to officers.
Somers dodged the question last week, telling reporters that 911 callers don’t have the ability to assess someone’s mental health. He also declined to say if that information could have led to a different outcome. “If we’d known that for sure, I can’t say what our approach would have been,” he said.
Use-of-force experts say the information officers receive through dispatch can be both crucial and highly inaccurate.
Jon M. Shane is a professor of law, police science and criminal justice administration at John Jay College in New York. He said it’s not unusual for 911 callers located in inner cities to lie about seeing a gun in the hopes of speeding up police responses. “It happens all the time,” he said.
Shane says what matters is what police knew to be true at the time they approached Mann, and whether new information was shared with responding officers.
“An officer can be wrong about the facts, but right about the law,” he told SN&R. “It’s what information they had and it’s what they perceived in that moment.”
The entirety of what officers knew and shared with each other is not clear from the released videos and audio. What is clear is that Mann himself attempted to show officers he didn’t possess a gun.
Approaching him from behind, as Mann wobbles at a stop sign in a leafy residential neighborhood, one of the officers in the first responding unit gets on the loudspeaker and orders Mann to raise his hands and get on the ground.</p. <p>“Sir, get on the ground,” the officer commands.
Mann looks back.
“Dude,” another officer says.
“Why?” Mann asks.
“They said you had a gun,” the officer says.
“I don’t have a gun,” Mann says, showing his hands as he crosses the street toward a sidewalk. In one hand is the pocket knife; the other one is empty.
The officers continue to follow Mann at a distance, repeating their commands for him to surrender and ordering bystanders out of the area. As Mann turns the corner from Southgate Road onto Del Paso Boulevard, one of the officers gets on the loudspeaker again. “Sir, we don’t want to hurt you,” he says. “Drop the knife.”
At one point, Mann turns and chucks a projectile—what police said was a bottle—at the officers’ car, striking it somewhere around the fender. The officers don’t react, other than to repeat their commands for him to surrender.</p. <p>Burris said this was the right approach to take with Mann.
“They didn’t rush in on him,” he said. “They were following him. The initial officers didn’t create a confrontation.”
As the officers’ vehicle pulls northwest onto Del Paso Boulevard, the dashcam records Mann racing back across the street, past the female bystander. Mann comes into close proximity with the vehicle.
“You’re gonna hit him, you’re gonna hit him,” the officer warns his partner.
“I’m not gonna do it, I’m not gonna do that,” the officer says, braking so as not to strike Mann. “I’m not gonna force it.”
Shortly after, Tennis and Lozoya enter the dashcam’s frame, jogging with their guns pointed.
After watching Mann run at, and then pass by, a responding patrol SUV near the corner of Del Paso Boulevard and Dale Avenue, Lozoya can be heard on the video saying, “Fuck, fuck this guy.”
Their car rushes toward Mann.
“I’m gonna hit him,” Tennis tells his partner.
“OK, go for it, go for it,” Lozoya says.
Dashcam video shows their vehicle bending into the crosswalk toward Mann and lunging forward. Mann barely escapes getting hit, darting through the crosswalk at Del Paso Boulevard and Dale Avenue.
The patrol sedan then lurches to a stop facing an iron-rod gate along Dale Avenue. “Watch out, Randy,” Tennis says before reversing.
The car backs up, points its nose at Mann, now standing on the sidewalk, and accelerates again. Mann sprints across Del Paso Boulevard to avoid getting hit again. His momentum carries him across the median divider, where a female bystander stands, and out of the dashcam’s frame.
The car halts. The dashcam recording picks up one of the officer’s voices.
“We’ll get him,” the officer tells his partner. “We’ll get him.”
A bird’s-eye surveillance video obtained from the Stoney Inn picks up the action from there, showing Mann’s final moments on a tree-shaded sidewalk outside the saloon.
Having just seemingly escaped being hit by the cop car, Mann crosses back toward the sidewalk and jogs along a string of closed storefronts on Del Paso Boulevard. Two officers on foot cross the street toward him, closing the gap. Noticing them, Mann points his left arm and stops running. There’s a small knife in that hand, but the two officers are about 15 feet away, standing in the road. Mann gestures again. As he lifts the hand one more time, he doubles over suddenly and lurches back, crumpling to the ground as the two cops fire their guns and close the distance.
“Roll him over, get him handcuffed,” an officer can be heard saying in one of the dashcam recordings.
McGeorge School of Law professor Mike Vitiello found the surveillance video “startling.”
“There may be a try-able issue on whether they believed he had a gun,” the policing and criminal law expert told SN&R. “It has to be a realistic threat, and a person who has a knife and isn’t moving toward them doesn’t present an immediate threat.”
Though he hadn’t closely watched the Tennis-Lozoya dashcam, Burris agreed. “This was a flat-out comply or die scenario,” he said at last week’s press conference. “That is the part that is most disturbing, because the tape … only confirms what we believed had happened—that Mr. Mann was not a threat to police officers.”
Mary Walsh Allmond believes the same thing.
She says she was sitting in the front car of a stopped light-rail train when she witnessed Mann die several feet away. She first noticed Mann walking up the middle of the street. “I thought that’s why we stopped,” she told SN&R.
From her seat, Walsh Allmond had a good view through the front window. She says she watched Mann cross toward the sidewalk, where he broke into a jog, then stopped and turned around. That was when she noticed police and got the feeling something bigger was happening.
“I had a direct line on him,” she said. “I could hear the cops, or someone, screaming stop. He stopped, and he turned around. And when he turned around, he looked over at the train. And when he looked over at the train, they shot him.
“I saw his face,” she added. “He looked bewildered.”
Walsh Allmond says she was interviewed three times that day over the course of several hours, first by uniformed officers at the scene and finally by a detective in the probation office across the street from where the shooting occurred.
SN&R was unable to independently verify that police considered her an eyewitness, but Burris says his office has been in touch with Walsh Allmond and found her to be credible.
She says she feared police retaliation for coming forward, but couldn’t get the images of Mann’s death out of her head.
“Come on, they can’t keep doing this,” she said. “That’s what’s really, really bothering me.”
Either way, Vitiello had a prediction: The city will settle its lawsuit with the Mann family—and the officers will escape criminal charges. “But that’s like telling you the sun’s going to rise tomorrow,” he said.