Protester says Sacramento cops are now part of deadly national trend
The families of two men killed by Sacramento police were joined by black and religious community members Wednesday morning to call for police reforms a day after the release of surveillance video showing Joseph Mann being shot to death.
“The time for political niceties is over,” said Mark Harris, a lawyer representing the family of Joseph Mann, a mentally ill man shot July 11 in North Sacramento.
Later Wednesday, as darkness fell, a growing crowd of about 80 people gathered at Del Paso Boulevard and Arden Way to protest Mann’s killing and other police shootings of black men. The protest was organized by a Sacramento group of Black Lives Matter activists.
“Whose streets?” the protesters chanted. “Our streets!”
The Sacramento Police Department’s sudden release of its own video and audio from the Mann incident came after The Sacramento Bee obtained the surveillance video from a private citizen Tuesday and posted it online. The police and city for weeks had refused to make any footage public, citing investigatory privilege in response to Bee requests, and the city attorney previously advised City Council members not to view the video while the case was under review.
Tuesday night, City Council members viewed police video with police Chief Sam Somers Jr. in closed session before laying out a framework to create rapid policy changes in the Police Department.
During the Wednesday news conference in a vacant lot on Del Paso Boulevard near where Mann was shot 14 times by two officers, supporters of the Mann family called for giving investigatory and disciplinary powers to an independent police commission. Some speakers also called for the two officers involved in the shooting – now on desk duty – to be dismissed from the force. Others, including Mann’s brother, Robert Mann, demanded criminal proceedings against them.
On the morning of July 11, Mann was armed with a knife with a 4-inch blade and acting erratically, according to witnesses and police. Two 911 callers reported that Mann possibly had a gun, information that dispatchers relayed to officers. Mann had methamphetamine in his system, according to Somers.
Officers did not find a gun when they reached Mann’s body, Somers said Tuesday. Investigators also never located a gun when they combed the neighborhood hours after the incident.
The surveillance video obtained by The Bee shows Mann running from police as officers converge on him. They are still some distance away when he turns to face them and raises and lowers his arm three times. It’s not clear from the video what – if anything – he is holding. Two officers then fire a barrage of shots. Mann crumples to the ground. Officers approach him, and at least two of them appear to nudge him with their feet.
The Mann family and others questioned if officers took appropriate steps to de-escalate a situation they say obviously involved mental illness. They said lethal force was unnecessary.
“It’s very clear that (police) had plenty of time to use other means to deal with my brother, who was mentally ill,” said Robert Mann. “They choose not to use any of those means but lethal force.”
John Burris, another attorney for the family, said he would continue pursuing a federal lawsuit and a claim against the city because the videos show that “no reasonable police officer would have believed that they should have discharged the weapons they did at the time they did without first seeking to contain, without first seeking alternative approaches.”
Police spokesman Matt McPhail said Tuesday that the department’s “use-of-force policy is in line with state law.” He said the policy “says officers can use force, a reasonable amount of force, and the term ‘reasonable’ is based on circumstance ... to effect an arrest, prevent the escape of a suspect and to overcome the resistance of a suspect.”
Somers offered his condolences to the Mann family and the officers involved in the incident.
“We place our officers day to day dealing with a challenging population, officers put out onto the street having to deal with tremendously dynamic situations,” Somers said. “They don’t have the foresight of exactly what’s going to happen. You can’t train for every type of situation.”
At Tuesday night’s City Council meeting, council members laid out plans to address community demands and take action.
On Friday, Councilman Larry Carr will take a Sacramento delegation of community members to Berkeley to learn about its police commission.
Carr asked City Manager John Shirey to create a protocol for dealing with serious incidents such as officer-involved shootings and to compile a report on what nonlethal equipment is available to patrol officers, including an analysis of whether their equipment is adequate for the city’s needs.
Somers said Tuesday that the department does not provide officers with rubber bullets or beanbag guns, though watch commanders and supervisors have them.
Carr also instructed the city manager to find a survey firm to conduct a customer satisfaction survey of the Police Department by ethnicity, age, council district and income level, and to involve the community in crafting questions for that survey.
Councilman Allen Warren said he wanted to focus on transparency reforms, especially around video footage obtained from police dashboard and body cameras.
The Bee requested department policies for engaging with mentally ill people through a Public Records Act request 20 days ago. The city said the request cannot be fulfilled until Oct. 7 because it needs time to redact the policy before it is released.
Speakers at the Wednesday morning event expressed anger over how the video was released Tuesday.
“It is inconceivable to me that our police chief is so concerned with the controlling of the spin associated with the release of the videos depicting the assassination of Mr. Mann that he released them without the human decency of allowing the Mann family to view them first in private,” said Harris, one of the Mann family’s attorneys. “The Sacramento Bee is just as bad ... rushing to distribute and disseminate without a conscience in terms of what is humanly decent.”
The Bee spoke Tuesday with Robert Mann prior to posting the video to inform the family of its content and its impending publication.
Despite the actions of the City Council, protesters said they planned to keep up the pressure. Along with reforms and the Mann case, they are asking for more information about the April fatal police shooting of Dazion Flenaugh.
Flenaugh, 40, was detained by police on the morning of April 8 after a 911 caller reported a man looking in windows, according to a police news release. Flenaugh matched the description and was placed in the back of a police cruiser. He “began acting erratic” and fled the car when officers opened the door to check on him, the release said. Police chased Flenaugh, who broke into a house and armed himself with two knives. Police confronted him in a nearby driveway where police say Flenaugh disregarded commands and charged officers. Officers shot him multiple times.
Flenaugh was bipolar and homeless, according to his mother, Christina Robbins. He had spent the previous night at his mother’s home near the scene of the shooting.
The mayor helped to pay for Flenaugh’s funeral through a $2,000 gift from his Sacramento Public Policy Foundation, a nonprofit that is largely funded by corporate and individual donations.
Flenaugh’s brother Damon Flenaugh said at the news conference that police had not provided any details of the shooting since the initial release.
“We are going to do everything we possibly can to not only vote the right people in office but stand against those that won’t do the right things when it comes to families,” said Levon Davis, pastor at Oak Park’s Blessed Faith Ministries. “We’ve gotten far away from protect and serve. Not only do we not have accountability, we don’t have transparency. So how do these families mourn? How do they move on when they can’t get a police report, they can’t get a dash cam released, they can’t get any information. How does that work?”