Sacramento council members push for more transparency, oversight in police shootings

After an emotional Sacramento City Council meeting last week that Kevin Johnson called “the most important” in his eight years as mayor, council members say they plan to take quick action to increase trust and transparency in the Police Department – including releasing video of a mentally ill man fatally shot by police in July.

“This video needs to be seen,” Johnson said during the Tuesday meeting. “This is about creating a transparent environment where we can build and restore public trust in a real way.”

The video likely will be shown in coming days to the family of Joseph Mann, 50, the mentally ill man who was shot by police in Del Paso Heights in July, said Crystal Strait, the mayor’s chief of staff.

Mann was armed with a knife and acting erratically during the encounter, but his family and many community members have questioned if deadly force was necessary after witnesses said he was not an immediate threat to officers when he was shot 16 times.

Robert Mann, brother of Joseph Mann, said he had not been contacted by anyone at City Hall, but it “would be wonderful” if his family were able to see the video.

It is unclear exactly what video or audio could be released. Police collected copies of footage from private surveillance cameras in the area and likely have dashboard camera footage of the event, based on standards in a redacted camera policy released to The Sacramento Bee under a Public Records Act request. But police have not released an accounting of available footage.

Attorney John Burris, who is representing the Mann family in a federal lawsuit and a city claim regarding the incident, said he has been working with the outside attorney hired by the city to handle the litigation to allow the family to see the video under a protective order. That order would forbid the family from discussing the content of the video with the public.

But Strait said the council’s goal is for council members to be able to view the video after the family, followed by public release with no restrictions.

“Relative to the gravity of this situation, the video is something I could justify (releasing),” said Councilman Allen Warren, an outspoken supporter of its dissemination.

Burris said the video eventually would become public when it is included as evidence in the federal lawsuit. A preliminarily court date has been set for December, he said.

Just hours before Tuesday’s council meeting, Police Chief Sam Somers Jr. announced he would retire in early December. He denied the decision was tied to the Mann shooting. But with department morale sagging and community pressure rising for greater police accountability, he has faced pressure from city leaders to announce his departure, according to three City Hall officials with knowledge of the situation.

The council already has begun acting on other oversight demands community leaders made during the meeting.

Those demands include giving the Community Police Commission power to investigate and discipline officers and more transparency in department procedures and policies. The Police Commission was formed last year and has only advisory powers to the City Council.

Following the Tuesday meeting, Johnson formed an ad hoc committee composed of Councilmembers Rick Jennings, Larry Carr, Allen Warren and Eric Guerra to follow up on proposed reforms.

Committee members will “sit down with law enforcement” to gather answers to 12 requests for information presented in a letter to the council by groups at Tuesday’s meeting. The requests included information on the status and deployment of body cameras, the number of officers who reside in Sacramento by ZIP code, traffic stop data and details on use-of-force training.

“The community deserves a response to that letter,” Strait said.

The committee also will re-examine “Officer Next Door” legislation passed last year to increase training, diversity, accountability and community engagement for police. The Officer Next Door framework contained some changes that activists are asking for, but it lacked tracking mechanisms to ensure the council’s vision was effectively implemented.

Strait said adding reporting mandates to the legislation will be one item the committee considers. The committee also will create a series of community forums to engage a broader audience, especially in “priority neighborhoods,” including Del Paso Heights and south Sacramento, Strait said.

Warren said communication between police and communities is an essential part of trust.

“There are wonderful pleasures in all of our cultures and our religions, and I think it’s wonderful when we can enjoy the best of one another and really stop letting the artificial lines divide us,” he said.

Councilman Larry Carr said he wanted to examine what other cities have done to create public oversight of police. On Friday, he plans to visit Berkeley and San Francisco to learn about police accountability measures there, but he cautioned that any action by the City Council would take time

“We are trying to be thoughtful and methodical,” he said. “And we also have the police to consider, too. They are operating under tremendous pressure and danger, and the last thing we want to do is make them think they are being second-guessed by the City Council.”

Tim Davis, head of the local police union and a member of the Community Police Commission, said it was unfair to criticize the commission before it completed its first year and made recommendations to the council.

“The commission is not even a year old ... and it’s premature to start talking about whether or not it works when you haven’t given it a chance to work yet,” he said.

The controversy over the Mann case largely centers on whether Mann posed an immediate threat to officers when he was shot, and whether police need more training and tactics when dealing with mental illness. Mann was armed with a knife and yelling threats at officers. But witnesses said he was clearly mentally impaired.

“We know that mental illness is a big issue in our community,” Warren said. “We have to be more conscious that these types of encounters may occur, and it would be a travesty if mental illness and an encounter with police was a death sentence.”

Police spokesman Bryce Heinlein said the two officers involved in the shooting remain on modified duty, not on patrol. The police investigation of the Mann shooting is completed and has been referred to the District Attorney’s Office for review, he said.

Anita Chabria: 916-321-1049, @chabriaa

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