In an unprecedented request, members of Sacramento City Council are asking to see video of the police killing of a homeless African American man on Del Paso Boulevard before the official investigation is complete.
Some council members are requesting access to video, audio and other evidence related to the July 11 shooting of Joseph Mann during a non-public “closed session” Tuesday night prior to the council’s public meeting, according to city officials with knowledge of the situation.
Mann, 51, was shot at least 16 times by two Sacramento police officers, according to a lawsuit filed by his family against the city. Mann was acting erratically and allegedly brandishing a knife during the morning incident, Sacramento police said.
Mann’s family claims he was mentally ill and that police acted improperly by failing to de-escalate the situation after being faced with Mann’s abnormal behavior, including weaving across the street and performing karate-type moves.
The family has filed both a federal civil rights lawsuit and a claim against the city charging that officers “confronted and aggressively pursued” Mann when they should have worked to calm the situation, according to attorney John Burris. Burris in early August released a bystander video of the shooting that shows multiple police vehicles following Mann before he stops on the sidewalk in front of a wall. Moments later, police in the street can be heard firing multiple times, then rushing to Mann where he lays on the ground.
The video loses sight of Mann for a moment just prior to the shooting, leaving a critical second unclear.
Still, Burris said the video showed that police used increasingly aggressive tactics.
“You can’t create a confrontation and shoot your way out of it and call it justified,” said Burris. “This is a mentally-ill person ... The thing you don’t do is create a confrontation. You de-escalate.”
The legal case will be discussed during the closed-session meeting of the council, and police department spokesman Matthew McPhail confirmed that police chief Sam Somers would attend.
Mayor Kevin Johnson is also expected to attend, and his spokesperson confirmed he plans on watching the video if it is made available. Council members may have the option of leaving the room if they do not wish to see the video.
“No matter how you look at it, these shootings are tragic, tragic for the families who have lost loved ones, tragic for the officers and their families, and tragic for the community,” Johnson said in a statement. “It’s our responsibility as a city to ensure that these investigations and proceedings are fair, transparent and expedient so that we can give the families and community the closure they deserve.”
Councilman Larry Carr said that he also planned on seeing the video if it was made available, but believed the issue was larger than the Mann case and a stronger framework for overseeing city departments, including the police, needed to be discussed.
“How do we as a council interface with the police department over these types of incidents and what is our responsibility and how do we oversee the process?” he asked. “It can’t be that the city council’s only oversight of the police department is to approve a budget. That situation can’t exist.”
Closed-session meetings are private and those in attendance are legally prohibited from speaking about the proceedings. City Attorney James Sanchez said that the city will likely retain an outside lawyer prior to the meeting to advise council members on the pitfalls of viewing evidence prior to the completion of the investigation – and to advise against it.
“It’s necessary and from a legal adviser standpoint very important to allow the investigation to be concluded before any final positions are taken on the part of the city,” said Sanchez. “You don’t have the complete context of the case.”
Sanchez added that although he can’t confirm or deny the council is requesting to see video, “based upon my experience, it is an unusual situation if that is what the council desires to do.”
He said in the four years that he has been city attorney, the council has not made a similar request, and other sources confirmed that they are unaware of another excessive force case in which the council has intervened in the investigation.
Robert Mann, Joseph Mann’s brother, said that he is unhappy with the idea that some members of the city council might view video of the shooting in private. He said he believes the family should also have access to it.
“I feel violated because I should see the video first because I’m his brother,” said Mann, spokesman for the Mann family. “I am already a little aggravated with Sacramento in everything of how they are treating my brothers death.”