The Sacramento County District Attorney’s Office on Friday cleared two police officers of any legal wrongdoing in the controversial July shooting of Joseph Mann in North Sacramento.
District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert’s office said the two officers, John Tennis and Randy Lozoya, acted lawfully when they shot at Joseph Mann 18 times after attempting to run him down him with their police cruiser twice.
The report repeatedly emphasized the danger police believed Mann posed to residents and officers in the North Sacramento neighborhood the morning of July 11. It said the 50-year-old black man was armed with a knife and had methamphetamine in his system.
“Officers Tennis and Lozoya were justified in shooting Mann to defend themselves and each other, to protect the public from imminent harm, and to prevent the escape of a suspected felon who posed a significant threat of death or serious bodily injury to others,” the DA concluded.
Premium content for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
Mann’s family and community activists have questioned whether deadly force was necessary. They have asserted that Mann was mentally ill and that Tennis and Lozoya escalated the situation by aggressively chasing him with their car and on foot. Based on video, they have disputed an initial police account that Mann lunged at officers in the moments before he was shot dead.
John Burris, an attorney for the Mann family, said the DA’s investigation was not an independent review.
“It’s shocking to me … the level of protection the District Attorney’s Office gives to police under circumstances that are quite unconscionable in terms of their conduct,” Burris said. “Unfortunately, the District Attorney’s Office rarely files against police officers and police officers have that kind of protection even when unjustified.”
The incident began after residents at an apartment complex reported that Mann had a knife and one 911 caller reported that he had a gun, according to the 12-page report. The first officers on the scene located Mann on a residential side street off Del Paso Boulevard and ordered him to put down the knife, but did not report seeing a gun.
Mann was belligerent and did not comply with their commands. Instead, he continued to Del Paso Boulevard and began walking northeast up the road. More police arrived and continued to slowly pursue Mann.
On Del Paso Boulevard at Dale Avenue, Mann approached the police cruiser of Sgt. Michael Poroli with his knife “raised in an aggressive manner,” according to the report. Other officers said it appeared Mann either struck Poroli’s car or tried to open the passenger door. Poroli locked his doors, closed his windows and began to back up.
The report said that Tennis witnessed this interaction as he approached in his vehicle, and “considered striking Mann with his patrol vehicle to stop the threat” Mann posed to his fellow officer and a woman standing in the median of the road. Tennis said he was “worried” Mann had a gun and might enter businesses.
“Officer Tennis knew his vehicle was not traveling fast and he thought he could knock Mann of his feet or knock the knife out of his hand,” said the report. The DA’s Office included no information about Tennis’ vehicle speed when he attempted to hit Mann.
Tennis missed Mann and Mann ran toward the female bystander in the median of the road, according to the report. Lozoya opened the car door to exit. He dropped his Taser and reached for his gun at that point, fearing the woman was in danger. Tennis ordered his partner to stay in the car and “drove straight at Mann attempting to hit him with the car a second time,” the report said.
Tennis again missed Mann. Mann ran to the south side of the road and continued away from police. Tennis and Lozoya exited their car and pursued Mann on foot, the report said.
Mann took “an aggressive stance and what appeared to be a fighting position on the sidewalk. Lozoya said he saw a black and gray object in Mann’s hand and could not tell if it was a gun or a knife.
“Fearing for their own safety,” the officers fired, the report said.
Tennis fired eight shots and Lozoya fired 10. The report said that the officers fired for about three seconds, with some shots striking Mann in the back of his legs as he twisted and fell to the sidewalk. The officers then handcuffed Mann and called for the Fire Department and an ambulance. Mann was pronounced dead at 10:12 a.m. at UC Davis Medical Center.
A Smith & Wesson Special Tactical Knife with a 3.5-inch blade was recovered and tied to Mann by DNA evidence, the DA said. No gun was found.
Surveillance video obtained in September by The Sacramento Bee showed Mann with his feet planted at the moment of the shooting. In the video, Mann raises his arm three times at approaching officers before stopping on the sidewalk facing Tennis and Lozoya, who run toward Mann while firing. Though the DA said the officers fired from about 15.5 feet, measurements taken by The Bee put the officers farther away – 21 feet – when they began firing.
A Bee review of video and witness statements found that Tennis and Lozoya were on the scene for less than one minute between when they attempted to strike Mann with their cruiser and fired the fatal shots.
“The Joseph Mann incident highlights the challenges that law enforcement professionals have when dealing with those suffering from mental illness,” the Sacramento Police Department said in a statement. “We appreciate the renewed energy and focus on this very important issue. The Sacramento Police Department looks forward to working with the community and elected officials to identify tools and strategies that produce positive outcomes.
Mayor Darrell Steinberg said that while he has “enormous respect” for police, “what we know with what unfolded with the Joseph Mann case is tragic. It’s unacceptable.”
Steinberg said that the city will closely monitor an ongoing internal affairs investigation that will examine the actions of the officers as well as conduct a review of department policies and procedures.
“If that investigation concludes that those officers were following policies, then it’s long past time to change policy,” Steinberg said.
Assemblyman Kevin McCarty, D-Sacramento, was critical of the DA’s findings Friday and said he intends to introduce legislation next week that would create a more independent review process.
“Like many Sacramentans who saw the video, I question the conclusion by the DA that police acted within reason in the shooting and killing of Joseph Mann,” McCarty said in a statement. “For far too long, there has been distrust surrounding police shootings and the decisions by local DAs that work closely with police officers.”
Francine Tournour, head of the Sacramento Office of Public Safety Accountability, said the police department’s internal affairs investigation will likely take a few months to complete. She said it would not recommend specific discipline or policy changes, but present findings to senior department leaders and the police chief.
Tournour will then weigh in on whether she considers the internal affairs investigation to be sound, and whether she agrees with the chief’s decision to impose discipline. Tournour said that in the 10 years she has been at the Office of Public Safety Accountability, the Mann case is the first officer-involved shooting to be sent to internal affairs.
In response to the district attorney’s report, Tournour said, “There has to be a next step.”
Police spokesman Bryce Heinlein said both Tennis and Lozoya remain on “modified duty” and are not on patrol. Heinlein said that while Sacramento police general orders do not “address the use of a vehicle as a weapon,” it is discussed during training as a “last-resort use-of-force option.”
Judith Odbert, an attorney for Tennis and Lozoya, did not respond Friday to a request for comment.
Ed Obayashi, a use-of-force expert and former law enforcement liaison to the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office, said the report could be “perceived” as favoring the police, but its level of detail and legal analysis is consistent with other district attorney reports he has reviewed. He said that in the age of social media, many elected DAs feel pressure to make the strongest case they can to explain the high legal standard necessary to file criminal charges against officers.
“If it seems like it’s tilting a lot in favor of trying to justify the officers’ actions, it’s because the district attorney wants to put as many legal justifications and as many facts as they can to justify their decision,” said Obayashi. “It’s a political document. It’s going to generate pros and cons from both sides.”
Community activists said they planned to take action in coming days.
“We are going to be taking it to the streets and we are hoping to disrupt because we’ve had enough of this happening in Sacramento,” said Tanya Faison, founder of Sacramento Black Lives Matter. Faison said her group plans to hold a march on Feb. 1.
One witness interviewed in the district attorney’s report said Mann looked “possessed and mad,” another told her husband to “call an exorcist” and the Police Department implied Mann had mental illness in its statement. But the DA’s Office appeared to dispute that Mann was mentally ill. It said that shortly after Mann’s death, his father and sisters said “they did not consider him to have any significant mental illness.”
Robert Mann said that was “a lie.” He said his brother had received treatment at both the Sacramento County Mental Health Treatment Center and Heritage Oaks Hospital.
The Mann family has filed a federal lawsuit against the city. Mann said that no one from the DA’s Office had interviewed him or other family members.
“It’s just a very sad time and day for me to feel that Sacramento is trying to justify my brother’s death,” Robert Mann said. “If this is in fact the officers we have policing our community, Sacramento is in a bad state and I am just disappointed.”
This is a breaking news story. Please check back for updates.