Sacramento police officer who killed a man in 2016 sues city, claiming wrongful termination

A former Sacramento cop who fatally shot Joseph Mann in 2016 has sued the city, claiming he was wrongfully terminated after losing his appeal this summer.

The lawsuit – filed Monday in Sacramento Superior Court against the city and its Civil Service Board – claims the city wrongfully terminated John Tennis, and seeks a court action to force the board to reconsider. It also sheds light on what happened behind the scenes after the high-profile shooting of the 50-year-old Mann, who was black.

The city declines to comment on pending litigation, city spokesman Tim Swanson said.

The city sent a letter to Tennis in August 2017, about 13 months after he and then-officer Randy Lozoya shot Mann, informing Tennis of the city’s intent to terminate him, according to a document attached to the lawsuit. The city then sent Tennis a “notice of discipline” in October 2017, the lawsuit said. That month, the city said Tennis’ employment at the department was ending.

Tennis appealed, hearings took place last year and in March of this year, an arbitrator ruled the termination should be upheld, according to a document attached to the lawsuit. However, the complaint said the arbitrator did not find the city met its burden to show Tennis violated either the department’s Use of Force or Discharge of Firearms General Orders.

The city did have sufficient cause to sustain the other violations, the arbitrator’s ruling said. Other violations, according to the city’s August 2017 letter, included: Tennis twice used his patrol vehicle as lethal force; did not attempt to coordinate a containment or action plan with any of the other officers; and failed to give Mann any clear commands with which he could comply.

Tennis received a notice of termination in July, the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit also claims that a January 2017 statement Mayor Darrell Steinberg made calling for police accountability put pressure on the city to terminate Tennis.

“The Respondents violated Petitioner’s rights guaranteed to him by the Public Safety Officers Procedural Bill of Rights Act in that they failed to protect his rights to a fair investigation and based their findings and decision to terminate Petitioner on political pressure,” the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit asks the judge to “set aside” the city’s discipline, and direct the case back to the city’s Civil Service Board for reconsideration. It also seeks attorney’s fees and other legal costs.

In July 2016, neighbors near Woodlake in north Sacramento called 911 to report a man who was acting strangely armed with a knife and a gun. Officers found Mann walking, brandishing a pocket knife. Mann did not comply with officers’ orders and yelled threats at them, but said he did not have a gun. Officers never found a gun.

Dashcam footage released by the city showed Tennis and Lozoya attempting to hit Mann twice with their car, before pursuing him on foot, and shooting him.

“I’m going to hit him,” Tennis said in the audio.

“OK. Go for it. Go for it,” responded Lozoya, who has since retired.

Mann’s family said he had a history of mental illness and had been treated by two local facilities. Mann also had methamphetamine in his system, a coroner’s report found.

Tennis had been at the department for about 26 years prior to the shooting, mostly as a patrol officer.

The August 2017 letter mentions other instances Tennis had been disciplined, including in 2014 when Tennis called in sick due to being intoxicated, leading to a 40-hour suspension. In 2017, Tennis was suspended for 160 days after striking a fleeing domestic violence suspect with his patrol vehicle, the letter said.

In 1997, Tennis put Albert Glenn Thiel in a controversial neck restraint after a car chase. Thiel died, and the coroner ruled it a homicide, saying he was killed by pressure or a blow to his throat, though alcohol and cocaine were also listed as possible contributing factors.

The city paid a $719,000 settlement to Mann’s father in 2017.

The city last week announced the two officers who fatally shot unarmed Stephon Clark in March 2018 will not be fired.

Bee staff writers Darrell Smith and Molly Sullivan contributed to this report.

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Theresa Clift covers Sacramento City Hall. Before joining The Bee in 2018, she worked as a local government reporter for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, the Daily Press in Virginia and the Wausau Daily Herald in Wisconsin. She grew up in Michigan and graduated from Central Michigan University.