Editorials

What else doesn’t Sacramento know about the police?

Attorney John Burris, center, comforts Robert and Deborah Mann, family members of Joseph Mann, who was killed by Sacramento police in July. The Mann family is demanding that the officers involved in the shooting be charged with murder and that the U.S. Department of Justice open a civil rights investigation of the Sacramento Police Department.
Attorney John Burris, center, comforts Robert and Deborah Mann, family members of Joseph Mann, who was killed by Sacramento police in July. The Mann family is demanding that the officers involved in the shooting be charged with murder and that the U.S. Department of Justice open a civil rights investigation of the Sacramento Police Department. The Associated Press

The police shooting of Joseph Mann is fraught with questions, only some of which have been answered by the horrifying dash-cam footage released, after much stalling, by the Sacramento Police Department last week.

Those of us footing the bill for their paychecks might ask, for instance, why Officers John Tennis and Randy Lozoya thought we’d condone running down a mentally ill man with a squad car. Or why 14 shots were required to stop someone holding a knife 27 feet away.

Also: What was Tennis still doing on the job at all? In the months since he and Lozoya killed Mann – midway through an effort by other officers on the scene to de-escalate the situation – one abuse after another has surfaced from the depths of his personnel file.

There was his 1997 chokehold killing of a 35-year-old suspected car thief for which – another question – county prosecutors declined to bring charges. There was the $10,000 settlement the city had to pay in 2000 after Tennis stopped a man for questioning in an area known for drug sales and the man came away bruised and beaten.

So many questions in this progressive city, whose more fortunate quarters have long imagined that killings like Mann’s were the fruit of other police cultures.

Then, according to a lawsuit filed against the city by Mann’s family, there was the temporary restraining order in 2012, based on a domestic violence and child abuse complaint from Tennis’ ex-wife, forbidding him from carrying a firearm or ammunition. After he was stripped of his right to carry a gun, why did Sacramento police Chief Sam Somers Jr., then a deputy chief, ask a judge to restore it? Why did the judge, a former prosecutor, think the public would be safer if he relented?

Two years later, Tennis – still armed and on the job – settled the internal investigation into the incident with an admission of “long-term abuse of alcohol” and a stint in rehab. Why did the department settle for that?

So many questions, in this progressive city that, in its more fortunate quarters, has long flattered itself with the belief that killings like that of Joseph Mann were the fruit of departmental cultures in other places – that such things might happen on, say, the turf of the sheriff’s cowboy department, but not in the City of Trees.

Tennis and Lozoya weren’t rookies. And what we know so far indicates a systemic tolerance for transgressions. After all, people who expect to be punished don’t announce, “F--- this guy” and then try to run him over – on tape.

“I’m going to hit him,” one officer says, knowing he is being recorded. “Go for it,” the other replies, knowing the dash cam is running. Then they gun the engine, and when that fails to kill Mann, they leap out and mow him down in a hail of bullets. Lethal force seems the first and only impulse. What else don’t we know when the officers don’t even appear to question it?

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