When the first Sacramento police officers answered a 911 call for an armed mentally ill man in July, they remained calm and attempted to de-escalate the unfolding situation in North Sacramento.
Their reserved approach contrasts starkly with two officers who arrived four minutes later and attempted to run over the suspect before chasing him on foot and shooting him 14 times, based on a Sacramento Bee review of separate dashcam videos.
The different approaches may prove legally challenging for the two officers who pulled their triggers and are now under investigation, according to Edward Obayashi, a use-of-force expert and attorney.
“The first responding officer, he’s textbook response on something like this. He’s keeping his distance. He’s keeping his calm,” Obayashi said. “Then you see this third unit ... they make the decision to run this guy over based on their conversation even before they see what’s going on ... What did they see, what did they think, what did they perceive that was an immediate threat that the other officers didn’t?”
Joseph Mann, 50, was shot by police July 11 after brandishing a knife and acting erratically. The case has drawn national attention and is under investigation by the Sacramento County District Attorney’s Office. Mann’s family called Monday for a federal civil rights investigation from the U.S. Department of Justice.
The family has also sued the city of Sacramento, as well as Officers Randy Lozoya and John Tennis, who shot Mann dead.
In dashcam footage released by the Sacramento Police Department and reviewed by The Bee with enhanced audio, the first responding officers are heard repeatedly telling Mann to drop his knife, but they remain inside their car and at a distance. They allow Mann to make his way to Del Paso Boulevard, where other units respond.
About three minutes after responding, one officer in the initial responding car tells Mann, “Sir, we don’t want to hurt you.”
Within seconds, Tennis and Lozoya’s car is seen driving toward Mann on the opposite side of Del Paso Boulevard. Mann dodges to avoid being hit by the vehicle, and runs back in front of the first police car.
An officer in that car says, “I’m not gonna do that, I’m not gonna do that, I’m not gonna force it,” as Mann passes in front of their car and back onto the sidewalk. It is unclear what the officer is referring to.
Someone shouts, “Drop the knife.” Mann runs down the sidewalk.
Tennis and Lozoya run after Mann and shoot him as the initial officers remain in their car. As Mann moans on the sidewalk, one of the first responding officers says, “Jesus f------ Christ.”
John Burris, a lawyer for the Mann family, said in a Monday news conference that he believed the first responding officers acted appropriately.
“They ... tried to calm it down,” he said. “I have no fault with the early officers.”
Obayashi said from a legal standpoint, the first responding officers could have been justified in using force after Mann threw an object at their car but that the officers showed “restraint.”
“That was a direct attack, physical assault at an officer,” Obayashi said.
Obayashi said what wasn’t heard on the audio concerns him as much as what was. He said Tennis and Lozoya should have radioed in their intent to use lethal force as a standard tactical procedure to provide warning and safety to other officers.
“There are going to be a lot of questions about the tactical issues here, never mind the legal issues,” he said.
Sacramento City Attorney James Sanchez said in an email statement on Sunday that the District Attorney’s Office was reviewing the case and “will advise of any criminal findings. We welcome appropriate review by any state or federal law enforcement authority.”
Burris said the actions of the officers who shot Mann are “as much of an execution as I have ever seen in a police case.”
“They didn’t try to communicate with him, they didn’t try to calm the situation down,” Burris said. “All they did was run up on him and start shooting.”