Attorneys for the family of a man shot to death by Sacramento police last month alleged in court papers and at a news conference Thursday that one of the officers involved in the incident has a history of “long-term alcohol addiction” and domestic violence.
The officer, John Tennis, is still a member of the Sacramento Police Department. John Burris, an attorney for the family of the deceased, called Thursday for his ouster.
The Sacramento Police Department released a statement Thursday:
“Any situation where the loss of life occurs is tragic and affects everyone who is involved. The Department is aware of the amendment to the lawsuit filed today against the City of Sacramento by Mr. Burris on behalf of the family of Joseph Mann. As part of our policy, we cannot comment on any active lawsuit that the City is involved in. Even though we are not able to comment on either of these topics, our condolences go out to the Mann family during this difficult time,” the statement read.
Both court papers and Burris allege that the department went to court in 2012 to restore Tennis’ legal right to carry a gun after domestic violence and child abuse accusations resulted in his being stripped of that right.
Two years later, according to the lawsuit, an internal investigation by the department was resolved with a written agreement and Tennis admitting that he was plagued by “a long-term abuse of alcohol, which interfered with his ability to perform his duties.”
Tennis agreed in a written pact to participate in an “educational based discipline” plan related to substance abuse in lieu of a 40-hour suspension without pay for violations of department policy.
“Tennis was subsequently checked into a residential alcohol addiction treatment facility to address his addiction to alcohol,” the lawsuit states.
Ignoring Tennis’ history, the department not only kept him on as a patrol officer, but also assigned him to Del Paso Heights, a high-crime area where officers often find themselves in stressful confrontations, according to Burris.
“The department was on notice of his prior behavior,” Burris said at the news conference in front of Sacramento’s federal courthouse, where his Oakland law firm filed a wrongful death lawsuit last week on behalf of the family of Joseph Mann against the city of Sacramento. “This is a dangerous area, where officers often have to make life-or-death decisions.
“This is where the department placed a man who should have been fired even before” the July 11 shooting of Mann, said Burris.
The lawsuit alleges that Mann, 51, was shot at least 16 times.
The incident unfolded near the Woodlake Oaks apartment complex on Lochbrae Road, one block off Del Paso Boulevard.
In addition to Tennis and the city, an amended complaint filed Wednesday on behalf of Mann’s family names Sacramento police Officer Randy Lozoya, who is alleged to have also shot Mann. Mann was African American. Tennis is white, and Lozoya is Hispanic, said Sacramento Police Department spokesman Sgt. Bryce Heinlein.
The suit seeks monetary damages in an unspecified amount to compensate for the alleged violations of Joseph Mann’s civil rights, plus the pain and suffering the family says it is enduring.
Burris said the names of Tennis and Lozoya, plus the information regarding Tennis’ past problems, were obtained after the first complaint was filed. He said an investigation by his office turned up the information about Tennis, and the officers’ names were given to his office only after the initial complaint was made public and subsequent requests for the names were made to the department from media outlets.
The attorney said the department has ignored the family’s requests for the police reports and videos of the shooting.
Last week, after the initial complaint was announced by Burris, Heinlein said officers who responded to a 911 call found Mann behaving erratically. He charged the car of the first officer on the scene, had a knife, was “noncompliant,” and turned toward the officers and raised the knife before the officers opened fire, Heinlein said.
The Mann family and Burris provided video last week of the incident that was captured by a civilian bystander from a distance. Burris said Thursday the video shows no knife and no aggression on the part of Joseph Mann.
Heinlein said last week Tennis and Lozoya are 25-year veterans of the force. He said they were put on a three-day paid leave following the shooting and are back on modified duty.
Joseph Mann had a history of mental instability and, when he was reportedly weaving back and forth across the street and doing karate moves as he walked away from officers, that would not have been unusual, said Joseph’s brother, Robert Mann, at Thursday’s news conference. He said his brother developed mental health problems after their mother died in 2011, but he insisted Joseph was never violent.
“How can that be a reason to kill him?” Robert Mann said. “I don’t know legalities, but I know this is wrong.”
He said his deceased brother worked at a Raley’s market for 18 years, and then went to work as a “counselor” at the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
Joseph Mann’s two sisters also attended the news conference, but did not speak.
According to court papers, El Dorado Superior Court issued a temporary restraining order on May 23, 2012, against Tennis, based on a complaint by his former wife. The order forbid Tennis to carry a firearm or ammunition.
Less than two weeks later, Sam Somers Jr., then deputy chief of operations at the Sacramento Police Department and now its chief, wrote a letter to El Dorado Superior Court Judge Kenneth Melikian, informing the judge that possession of a firearm “is a condition of continued employment” for Tennis.
In the letter, supplied by Burris to reporters Thursday, Somers put the judge on notice that, “should a permanent order be granted, Officer Tennis will need to seek a firearm exemption” under a cited section of family law.
Burris said at the news conference that Melikian, who is a former federal prosecutor, modified the order to allow Tennis to carry a gun on the job but at no other time.
“Foreseeably,” the lawsuit alleges, “on July 11, 2016, when Defendant Tennis was placed in a stressful life or death situation, he acted in a manner consistent with his well-documented history of being violent, aggressive and impulsive.”
Denny Walsh: 916-321-1189