The fallout from the shooting death of Joseph Mann by two Sacramento police officers has started to resemble the winding and tortured pursuit of Mann himself on that fateful summer day in North Sacramento.
And the more we learn, the worse it looks.
With each passing day, Mann’s death at the hands of police seems more like a tragedy that didn’t have to happen. Hopefully, the investigation into Mann’s killing won’t fall into that same category.
Along with determining the facts of the case, officials investigating the shooting must answer a fundamental question: Whom do they serve?
Do they serve the broader public interest – that of the citizens and voters of Sacramento – who deserve accountability, transparency and a fair investigation even when it’s focused on the use of deadly force by police officers? Or do they serve the narrow interests of lawyers, politicians and other officials who sometimes shield from accountability police officers involved in controversial shootings?
Members of the Sacramento City Council – nine people elected to serve the public – have called for more transparency and accountability. But will it happen? They also called for public release of video footage of the encounter but met firm resistance from top city officials. It was only after The Sacramento Bee published surveillance video of the shooting that the Sacramento Police Department released its own dashcam footage.
The key players involved in keeping audio and video footage from the public were not elected: City Attorney Jim Sanchez, City Manager John Shirey and police Chief Sam Somers.
At least part of the city’s paralysis since the Mann shooting is structural: The City Charter calls for Somers to work for Shirey and for Shirey to run city operations. Shirey reports to the City Council, but it takes a majority to force him to do something. Sanchez persuaded members of the City Council to back off their request to review the footage, instructing them to wait until the official investigation was complete.
Instead of getting in front of the investigation, council members have been playing catch-up.
Meanwhile, some contend that there is no truly independent body in the city to investigate the Mann shooting – or any other police use of deadly force. The homicide detectives report to Somers. The city Office of Public Safety Accountability, which is conducting its own investigation, reports to Shirey and not the City Council.
District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert, who is an elected official, will conduct her own probe, in addition to reviewing the police investigation. But she will focus narrowly on whether the officers who killed Mann were legally justified in doing so. And it’s worth mentioning that she is a prosecutor who works closely with police.
For years, the DA’s office consistently has found in favor of officers when it comes to their use of deadly force. Will that be the case with Officers Randy Lozoya and John Tennis? Both the video footage and national attention to police shootings add new dimension to the issue.
It’s not the responsibility of Schubert’s office to comment on whether the overall tactics used by the officers were sound. But at some point, someone is going to have address that question and others that stem from the July 11 incident.
Police arrived on the scene in response to 911 calls from citizens, some of whom reported that Mann may have had a gun. There were reports that children were nearby and that he had a knife as well.
Police had reason to be on the alert for their safety as well as the safety of the public. As shown in dashcam video, the tactics employed by the first officers who responded reflected the kind of calm assertiveness we would want in our police: They assessed the situation. They tried de-escalate it. And they tried to protect Mann as well.
“Sir, we don’t want to hurt you,” one officer said.
Mann, who was mentally ill according to his family, did not follow commands when officers told him to drop his knife. The police later would say he had methamphetamine in his system.
Another dashcam video captured Lozoya and Tennis barreling onto the scene and trying to run Mann down with their car. They then chased Mann on foot. When Mann stopped on the street, Lozoya and Tennis opened fire, shooting him 14 times.
Is there more information out there? Pertinent context for their actions? Maybe. But we may not know the conclusion of Schubert’s investigations for months. So we’re left with questions about why two officers killed a man when other officers seemed ready to de-escalate the situation.
I’m willing to wait for more information to further explain a shooting that looks like an injustice, but then it’s easier for me. My loved one didn’t end up dead on Del Paso Boulevard.