Philadelphia police have publicly released body camera footage and 911 recordings of the police killing of Walter Wallace Jr as they named the officers responsible for the shooting and announced a series of reforms.
The Philadelphia police commissioner, Danielle Outlaw, said the release of the footage on Wednesday night marked the first time in the department’s history that it had done so.
At a press conference on Wednesday afternoon, she said the two officers responsible for the shooting were Sean Matarazzo, 25, and Thomas Munz, 26. She said the officers, both of the 18th district, had been with the department since 2018 and 2017, respectively.
“While this is not a milestone to be celebrated, we truly believe that this is an important step in our commitment to transparency,” Outlaw said, speaking alongside the mayor, Jim Kenney, and district attorney, Larry Krasner. “The release of this footage has been very carefully considered, with the safety of the officers and the community in mind.”
Related: Walter Wallace Jr killing: footage shows 'obvious mental health crisis', lawyer says
The distressing footage, taken from each of the officers’ body cameras, shows them approaching Wallace’s doorstep and shouting “put the knife down now” and pointing a gun at Wallace, after he appears carrying a knife. Within seconds, multiple gunshots are audible as Wallace falls to the ground in the street, prompting screams and commotion. In one of the videos, one of the officers is heard instructing the other to shoot.
It comes nine days after Wallace, a 27-year-old Black man, was killed outside his home in West Philadelphia by police after his family said they called 911 for an ambulance. They said Wallace had bipolar disorder and was experiencing a mental health crisis at the time.
The incident, which was also recorded by a witness in a video that has been viewed widely online, prompted protests in Philadelphia and other US cities, as police admitted they do not have the right resources to handle mental health problems.
Outlaw said the videos show the officers’ arrival on the scene, through to their interactions with Wallace up to the point where they took him to the hospital.
She also announced a series of police reform initiatives – including a training programme for 911 dispatchers to better identify people in crisis, implicit bias training and active bystandership training for officers – and said they were working with the department of behavioral health.
“Without a doubt the past nine days have been very difficult for all Philadelphians,” she said.
The fatal incident is currently under two investigations – one by the district attorney’s office and one by the force’s internal affairs unit.
The announcement comes at a time of heightened tensions in the city, as mail-in votes are counted for the presidential election, and following unrest after Wallace’s killing.
Soon after the announcement, there were
of two protests – one urging authorities to “count every vote”, while racial justice protesters also gathered.
As hundreds chant to “count every vote” on the north side of Philly City Hall, racial justice protesters have gathered on the south side as the city is about to release body cam footage of police killing of Walter Wallace Jr pic.twitter.com/YCye0fDsLu— Anna Orso (@anna_orso) November 4, 2020
Kenney said releasing the footage was an “important step” but called for patience from the public while investigations are under way.
Calling for calm, he said: “We understand that the materials released today will be very painful. It will elicit anger, rage, distress, evoke more questions and rightfully so … But nothing is solved with more destruction and harm to our communities, neighborhoods and local businesses in the process.”
He added: “We know this moment is incredibly painful, given so many failures over generations to protect all of Philadelphia’s residents, especially those who are Black or brown … releasing this footage is a step, but also an indication of this failure.”
Warning that “the stakes are very high and the world is watching”, he promised the city would change.
“All of it will ensure that the tragic death of Walter Wallace Jr will not be in vain. We will learn from our failings and we will do better.”
The decision comes after officials said last week in a joint statement with the Wallace family, who have already seen the footage, that they had agreed to release the footage by the end of Wednesday “in the best interest of our city and its residents”.
After viewing the footage, Wallace family attorney, Shaka Johnson, said on Thursday that it showed a person in “obvious mental health crisis” and an officer telling the other to “shoot him” before they both opened fire and shot at him 14 times.
He said it also shows chaotic scenes in which onlookers, including Wallace Jr’s wife and mother, alerted Philadelphia police to his mental state and pleaded with them not to shoot.
Johnson said Wallace was almost immediately incapacitated after the first shot by police, who were positioned “approximately a car length and a half” away from the victim.
“What, other than death, did you intend when you shoot a man, each officer, seven times apiece?” he said at a press conference on Thursday afternoon, attended by Wallace Jr’s mother, Kathy Brant, and his father, Walter Wallace Sr.
“I saw a person in obvious mental health crisis. My auditory senses heard people shouting, ‘He’s mental, he’s mental,’” said Johnson of the 30-40 second video.
While Johnson said Wallace was holding a knife, it “does not give you carte blanche to execute a man”.
Although Wallace’s family believe they have been failed by the city, they are not calling for police officers to be charged with murder, Johnson said.
“Here’s why: they were improperly trained and did not have the proper equipment by which to effectuate their job,” he said.
The officers did not have Taser stun guns, police commissioner, Danielle Outlaw, has said.
Johnson said Wallace’s funeral has been scheduled for Saturday 7 November.
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