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Release of police footage in fatal shooting of Sacramento homeless man sparks protest, calls for unity

A day after Sacramento authorities released video recordings of officers fatally shooting a mentally-ill homeless man, relatives of Joseph Mann said police were wrong to use lethal force.

"There was nothing about his conduct that suggested he should have been shot multiple times," said the family’s attorney, John Burris. "Any reasonable police officer should have noticed that he was mentally impaired."

Release of the videos, which show officers firing 18 rounds at the black 50-year-old, have triggered protests by Black Lives Matter activists and calls for public unity by city officials.

The graphic videos were recorded by three police cruiser dash-cams and a private surveillance camera and   show Mann wearing a backpack and  walking through a Sacramento neighborhood on the morning of July 11. Police also released two 911 calls with witnesses saying Mann was armed with a gun and knife. One of the callers twice describes Mann as “mentally ill.”

From their patrol cruiser, officers call out to Mann on a loudspeaker.

“Sir, we don’t want to hurt you,” an officer said in the video, “drop the knife.”

The officers follow Mann as he turns onto the 1100 block of Lochbrae Road. At one point, Mann turns around to face officers, then squats and zigzags from side-to-side. At another point, he runs toward the officers and then away from them.

The video then shows two officers, guns drawn, running after Mann and firing repeatedly. Mann falls to the ground as the officers continue firing.

After the shooting, investigators found a knife with a four-inch blade, but no firearm. Of the 18 rounds fired, 14 struck Mann, police said. 

Toxicology tests later revealed that Mann was under the influence of methamphetamine or had used it at some recent point, according to Sacramento Police Chief Samuel Somers Jr.

“Not to put that into any context, other than it just another dimension that the officers are dealing with,” he said at news conference Tuesday. “It’s not only people that are mentally impaired, but are also chemically … impaired, and you put the two together and it just makes ... very difficult and dynamic issues for the officers to try to resolve.”

The chief said he was compelled to release the videos and audio due to “information that was out there.”

“It’s unprecedented for us to release video before we go through the adjudication process, but  … we wanted to make sure we continue to be as transparent as we can, ” he said. “We try to respect the privacy that folks have. We also try to respect the sanctity of the case that goes over to the district attorney’s office, but the times that we are in today, sometimes it’s important that we come out with this video or audio or some of these files before we get to that process.”

Detectives have interviewed more than 100 witnesses while assembling the 1,200-page case file, he said.

Members of Black Lives Matter said they planned to “hit the streets” of Sacramento on Wednesday evening, calling for changes in police tactics.

The victim’s brother, Robert Mann, said his family didn’t have a chance to review the videos before police released them.

“We are disappointed in the city of Sacramento for how they released this video,” he said. “You have all seen the video. It’s very clear that they had plenty of time to use other means to deal with my brother who was mentally ill. They chose not to use any of those means, but lethal force.”

The officers, he said, should be held accountable.

The officers were placed on three-day paid administrative leave after the shooting and later returned to work, police said.

Mann’s family has filed a federal lawsuit against the city, claiming officers used excessive force and aggressively pursued him.

Burris said even if methamphetamine was found in Mann’s blood, “he was acting bizarrely and police should not have used lethal force.”

Hours after police released the videos, the Sacramento City Council, which also viewed the footage, called for reforms to strengthen accountability.

“It was very disturbing,” Mayor Kevin Johnson said at Tuesday’s council meeting.

The mayor appointed a subcommittee to discuss police policy and talk to community leaders and get feedback on who the next police chief should be. Earlier this month, Somers announced he was retiring after 32 years of police work.

“We now more than ever really need to come together as a community,” Johnson said. “We don’t want to be a community that pits ourselves against each other” 

veronica.rocha@latimes.com

For breaking news in California, follow VeronicaRochaLA on Twitter.

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