SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) – The Sacramento County District Attorney’s Office on Friday found the 2016 killing of a homeless black man by police was justified, and that two officers lawfully shot 18 times at the man after he wielded a knife and ignored their commands.
District Attorney Anne-Marie Schubert said Joseph Mann, 51, rushed toward civilians and businesses and taunted pursuing officers before being shot and killed. The 12-page report clears officers John Tennis and Randy Lozoya and notes that Mann was armed with a knife and had methamphetamine in his system.
Schubert said the officers were “permitted to use deadly force to arrest” Mann on the morning of July 11, 2016.
“Considering how he was running, waving his knife around and refusing to surrender, there was a substantial risk that he would cause death or serious bodily injury to others if his apprehension was further delayed,” the report states.
The police shooting sparked public outrage in October after the police department released dashboard-camera video depicting a Sacramento police officer saying “fuck this guy” moments before Mann’s death. The department only released the video after being pressured by the Sacramento City Council and civil rights activists.
The video showed Mann dodging police and darting across a North Sacramento boulevard as officers appear to be trying to hit him with their police cruisers.
“I am going to hit him,” one officer says.
“Go for it,” another officer responds.
According to police records, Tennis was also involved in a 1998 fatal incident. The suspect in that case, Albert Glenn Thiel, was killed after fleeing and fighting with police.
The coroner listed "mechanical asphyxia due to blunt-force trauma of the neck" as the cause of Thiel’s death. After reviewing the evidence, which included Tennis attempting to place a chokehold on Thiel, then-District Attorney Jan Scully declined to pursue involuntary manslaughter charges against any of the officers.
Mann’s family and prominent civil rights attorney John Burris accused the officers of behaving like “big-game hunters closing in on an animal” and called on Schubert to bring murder charges against the officers.
Burris said in a phone interview Friday that he’s “not surprised” that Schubert cleared the officers despite their “egregious conduct.” He said Tennis has had previous problems with alcohol and even had his gun taken away from him by the police department.
“This is a man who should not have been near any type of confrontation,” Burris said of Tennis.
According to Schubert’s investigation, which included multiple dashboard-camera and business surveillance videos, Mann told the officers to “get over here” and “I’m gonna fucking gut you.”
The officers were positioned approximately 15.5 feet from Mann when they fired 18 times, striking him 14 times. The report defended the number of shots fired, claiming the officers did not fire an excessive number of shots though they may have “briefly continued to fire after Mann fell to the ground.”
The operator of a commuter light-rail train stopped nearby stated it appeared Mann was reaching for something in his back pocket or backpack before the officers shot him. Other passengers couldn’t confirm the shooting details, telling investigators they didn’t have a good vantage point.
Schubert and the Mann family disagree about whether Mann suffered from mental illness. Following the shooting, Mann’s family said he was unstable and was being treated at local mental health facilities. Witnesses told police that Mann looked “possessed and mad” and was performing “karate-style kicks” before police arrived.
Burris added that “any reasonable officer” should have been able to tell that Mann was undergoing a mental crisis.
But the investigation highlighted that Mann was found mentally competent to stand trial in a March 2015 criminal case.
“Officers Tennis and Lozoya were justified in shooting Mann to defend themselves and each other, to protect the public from imminent harm, and to prevent the escape of a suspected felon who posed a significant threat of death or serious bodily injury to others,” the report concludes.
Mann’s family sued the city of Sacramento and the two officers in Federal Court this past August on wrongful death and police brutality claims. A jury trial is scheduled to begin in September 2018.
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