The dashcam video of the Joseph Mann shooting in Sacramento shows officers in pursuit of the African American who suffered from mental illness – who was reportedly armed with a folding knife, according to accounts from eyewitnesses, although the police have never produced the knife and video footage does not show the man armed.
More ominous is the video that shows the two officers who end up shooting Mann saying, “I’m going to hit him.” His partner says, “Ok, go for it.” After that, the two officers, John Tennis and Randy Lozoya, exit their vehicle, engage in a brief foot pursuit and then open fire.
The Vanguard asked Ken Williams, a use-of-force expert, to break down the two videos. After viewing the second video and witnessing the “hot mic” which captured their intention to hit Mr. Mann with the police vehicle, he concluded that “this is most likely premeditated murder.”
Ken Williams is a decorated former homicide detective from a police department near Boston. For the past three years he has worked as a consultant on the use of force and officer-involved shootings.
The legal standard for use of deadly force is that law enforcement officers who perceive themselves to be under deadly threat, or a citizen to be under threat, in order to stop that threat can use upwards to lethal force.
The controlling case on the use of force is the 1989 US Supreme Court Case, Graham v. Connor, in which the court ruled, “The ‘reasonableness’ of a particular use of force must be judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene, rather than with the 20/20 vision of hindsight.”
Mr. Williams responded by noting that, without a police report, he could offer limited analysis.
He told the Vanguard, “The initial car responding is asking witnesses if they saw ‘a gun’ before the encounter with the man having a mental meltdown. I don’t know what the initial 911 call for service reported. That’s important information to have.”
“The mental condition of the person is certainly called into question from an experienced officer based on the initial contact to disposition of the call. Police encounter people who fall under ADA-type disabilities all the time but it is important to also note cops are not doctors or mental health clinician workers either,” he said.
He noted that, in order to stop a citizen, the police need reasonable suspicion of a crime. In this case, he is unsure of the reason for the stop.
Mr. Williams then noted, “These mics capture events and officer state of mind leading up to the critical shooting incident. The meeting of the minds of officers inside their cruisers as they respond to the call as assist units is problematic for police, based on their speech according to transcribed verbal exchanges. As police personnel increase in number to control the person fleeing from police, who is now resisting their verbal commands to stop, the police have an increasing sliding scale of advantage in this encounter. “
Like others, he noted, “Police at the outset did an admirable job at the start to direct pedestrians to move away from the subject they considered armed and resisting commands. I don’t hear an officer state to the person to ‘stop, you’re under arrest’ at the outset, so I will assume they did not have an arrestable offense or perhaps they did not have enough information to know if the person being stopped was ID’d as the person sought.
“As the police give orders, lawful or not, the police have to address the knife,” he explained. “The mental health of the man in question and his erratic behavior created an arrest-related offense when he ‘disturbed the peace’ of others, ran into traffic, etc. The police now transition into a pursuit to arrest, based on the crime of disturbing the peace.”
Mr. Williams continued, “The pursuit seems to come to rest with a tired individual stopped but armed, and police brandishing their weapons and firing their weapons as the person is standing, falling and coming to rest on the ground. The police reports will have to explain how the person stopped and, not moving toward police at that moment, posed a risk of imminent fear of death for officers or the public. Again, I don’t know if police had a felony or maybe an act of violence committed perhaps by this person prior to the encounter, which might heighten their fear of imminent danger. Based on the video alone and absent reading the official police use-of-force statements, based on the totality I will state this use of force appears excessive to me.”
However, the shorter version of the video that focuses solely on the officers who first attempted to run over Mr. Mann and then are the ones who shoot him, led Mr. Williams to a stronger conclusion.
He told the Vanguard, “If the officers speaking, having a meeting of the minds, and colluding are the same two officers involved in the critical shooting incident outside the safety and cover of their police cruiser, then this is most likely premeditated murder.”
He continued, “The hot mic captured their collusion to ‘kill.’ The two officers use the cruiser to attempt to hit and stop the assailant, which will likely violate department policy too.”
He explained, “Police do not have the authority to kill citizens. Police ‘shoot to stop threats’ which might result in death. The premeditated phase indicates intent and it is explicit toward this class of citizen; an explicit bias toward a person with a mental health condition.”
The key point, he stated, as he noted in May of this year when he discussed the 2015 Mario Woods killing by San Francisco police, is: “Are police escalating to deadly force simply because they can check off in their minds they attempted less than lethal force as a procedural measure before gunning a person down with deadly force? The police officers in the cruiser in video #2 exceed the Graham v. Connor standard because they are discussing ending the encounter by ‘killing’ before being threatened by a fleeing person.”
—David M. Greenwald reporting