So now we know why the Sacramento Police Department fought so hard to keep any audio or video of what happened to a mentally ill homeless man away from the public.
Two officers killed Joseph Mann in July under questionable circumstances on Del Paso Boulevard. He had a knife. That much we knew.
But with enhanced audio from dashcam footage that police released on Sept. 20 – only after The Sacramento Bee forced the department’s hand by obtaining surveillance footage from a private citizen – we now know that two officers first tried to run him over.
Randy Lozoya and John Tennis, the same officers who shot Mann 14 times, gunned their police cruiser toward Mann, backed up and then drove toward him again. They stopped the car, jumped out, ran toward Mann and shot him 14 times.
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“F--- this guy,” one officer says. Sirens from their vehicle blare in the background as they speed toward other officers who are already at the scene and trying to coax Mann into standing still and showing his hands.
Moments later, the driver – Lozoya or Tennis – declares: “I’m going to hit him.”
The other officer responds: “OK. Go for it.”
The scene is disturbing to say the least and again raises pertinent questions that the department hasn’t adequately answered about what policies officers must follow to de-escalate situations involving people who are mentally ill.
It also raises questions about the wisdom of a policy that allows officers to use their cars as weapons. The contents of the Mann videos are cause to wonder what’s in other videos that the department, as a matter of policy, refuses to release to the public.
Already the Mann case has caused an uproar among black leaders, who say officers unnecessarily resorted to lethal force. The department’s stonewalling, clipped responses and seeming lack of public empathy for the family haven’t helped.
The officer, of course, can be forgiven for his profanity. The situation was undoubtedly tense. However, we fail to see that any officer, including Lozoya or Tennis, had cause to fear for his or her life.
In fact, even without the enhanced audio, none of the footage released by the department corroborates the original story, which was that Mann, acting erratically, threatened police with a knife.
Surveillance footage first obtained by The Bee’s Anita Chabria shows Mann running down Del Paso Boulevard, with officers in pursuit. Mann stops on the sidewalk and Lozoya and Tennis, who are both standing about 25 feet away in the street, fire.
The officers are on “modified duty,” according to police spokesman Bryce Heinlein. That’s something.
But only recently has there been any movement on the internal investigation of the case – again prompted by The Bee releasing surveillance video – and renewed promises from Mayor Kevin Johnson and the City Council to implement reforms that prioritize transparency and accountability.
None of that is likely to save the city from having to pay heavily to settle the Mann family’s claims against the city. Their attorney, John Burris, called the officers’ conduct “cowboyish” and “outrageous.” It’s hard to disagree with that.
The City Council and mayor must continue to push for reforms. That includes requiring more training for officers and an introspective look at the department’s culture. The council and city manager must develop a policy for the orderly release of dashcam videos. It’s the only way to restore trust in the department, and avoid riots that have happened in other cities.
With the retirement of police Chief Sam Somers, Darrell Steinberg taking over as mayor and an opening for a new city manager, this is the perfect opportunity to create something positive out of what, more and more, seems like an entirely avoidable tragedy.