SACRAMENTO, Calif. — The family of a man killed in July by Sacramento police after 911 callers reported he was waving a knife and acting erratically demanded Monday that two officers face murder charges after dash-cam video revealed they talked inside their police cruiser about running him down. He dodged the cruiser twice and was shot 14 times less than a minute later by the same two officers.
The officers “behaved like big game hunters closing in on an animal,” said John Burris, a lawyer for the family of Joseph Mann, who was mentally unstable and homeless.
The demand for the murder charges came as Los Angeles police chief Charlie Beck defended his officers in the fatal shootings of a black man Saturday who police say was armed with a loaded semi-automatic gun and a Hispanic man on Sunday who officers say was wielding replica handgun.
The latest police shootings happened amid heightened tensions over police actions involving black people and other minorities across the country, and followed two more police shootings by California police last week of black men in San Diego and Pasadena.
In the Sacramento case, police have said Mann was waving a knife in the air and doing karate moves in the streets just before police responded. But Burris told reporters he was not threatening anybody and that the two officers who shot him, John Tennis and Randy Lozoya, should face a U.S. Justice Department civil rights investigation in addition to murder charges.
The officers can be heard on the recording saying “I’m gonna hit him” and “OK, go for it” before appearing to drive their cruiser twice at Mann, who managed to scramble out of its way both times. The officers then stopped the cruiser, got out of it, pursued him on foot and opened fire.
“Mann was standing stationary on a sidewalk with no one in close proximity when the officers unloaded their guns,” Burris wrote in a letter he said he sent U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch.
Sacramento police spokesman Matthew McPhail said he could not immediately comment on whether officers are trained to use squad cars as weapons. But he said the law and police protocol allow any person to use reasonable means to defend themselves under extreme circumstances.
“Our officers are encouraged to assess each circumstance and think critically about the tools at their disposal,” McPhail said.
Tennis and Lozoya were put on a brief leave after the July 11 shooting and returned to work on desk duty instead of patrol the following week. An administrative review of their actions is underway.
“It doesn’t service anybody’s interest with the public or the city, even the officers themselves or the family of the deceased, to have any sort of determination to be made before the investigation is complete,” McPhail said.
Surveillance videos show Mann doing the karate moves, zigzagging as he walked around a down-and-out commercial neighborhood in north Sacramento where many businesses are shuttered.
Police 911 recordings released previously included callers who said a man was waving a knife in the air, had a gun in his waistband and appeared to be mentally ill.
Family members have described Mann as a college graduate who was smart, loved politics and economics, and succeeded in several careers before deteriorating into mental illness about five years ago. They said he had been living on the streets and struggled with drugs before his death.
Toxicology tests revealed Mann had methamphetamine in his system the day he died, according to Police Chief Sam Somers.
A special team of officers that can assist other officers in dealing with mentally ill people was not sent to the area where callers reported Mann was acting erratically.
The first police cruiser that arrived rolled up alongside Mann as he was walking down a street. Mann turned away from that vehicle when the car with the two officers approached him, talking inside their cruiser about hitting Mann.
When Mann ran out of the cars way, the officer driving the cruiser backed it up and turned to aim in Mann’s direction again. It accelerated toward Mann, who ran across a median. The cruiser stopped and the officers got out.
About 15 seconds later, 18 shots were fired — 14 hit Mann.