PHILADELPHIA, Pennsylvania—After days of protests and demands for police accountability, Philadelphia authorities on Wednesday released body-camera footage of the moment Walter Wallace Jr. was killed by police late last month.
Police say Wallace, a 27-year-old Black man, ignored two white officers’ orders to drop a knife before they opened fire on him during a house call. Wallace Jr.’s parents have insisted the officers–identified on Wednesday as 25-year-old Sean Matarazzo and 26-year-old Thomas Munz—were fully aware that their son was having a mental-health crisis because they had already visited the house three times that day. The final—and fatal—call the 27-year-old’s family made to authorities was intended to get him an ambulance so he could get professional help.
The shooting sparked massive protests in West Philadelphia for at least two nights. After the body-camera footage was released on Wednesday, hundreds of protesters took the streets again to protest both the 27-year-old’s death and the tense presidential election count in Pennsylvania.
“The same systems that suppress Black voters killed Walter Wallace,” one speaker told the crowd, after several others were heard chanting, “Say his name. Walter Wallace.”
In a press conference Wednesday, Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney said the new body-camera footage “may be intense and traumatic for many people to watch” and he urged for calm in the city. District Attorney Larry Krasner also said that officials wouldn’t be releasing the entirety of the footage in accordance with a request made by Wallace Jr.’s family.
“With this release, the world will see we are engaging in an open process—a process that acknowledges the harm our actions have caused,” Kenney said, stressing that investigations “take time.” “We will learn from our failings and we will do better.”
The shocking body-cam footage does not show Wallace Jr. lunging at the armed officers—despite initial claims—but walking adjacent as the two cops who yell “put down the knife now.” The footage shows them shooting Wallace Jr. several times after he rounded a car, and a group of bystanders rushing to the 27-year-old lying in the middle of the street, yelling “he’s mental!” and “you killed my baby!”
Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw also noted Wednesday that it was the first time in the department’s history that body-camera footage from an officer-involved shooting had been released. It was “an important step in our commitment to transparency,” she added.
Krasner had previously said that his decision on whether to bring charges against the officers hinged on the footage, and what the officers—who each fired at least seven shots—knew about Wallace Jr.’s mental health and criminal history when they responded to his mother’s call.
Wallace Jr.’s family has said they’re opposed to criminal charges for the cops involved because “they were improperly trained and did not have the proper equipment by which to effectuate their job,” Shaka Johnson, their attorney, said last week.
“As a part of the government, I apologize for that,” Krasner said Wednesday, choking up as he insisted the 27-year-old’s mother was failed by the government when she tried to help her son with his mental illness.
The release of the footage came just an hour after the Trump campaign descended on the city of Brotherly Love to announce two legal actions aimed at halting ballot counting in the crucial swing state.
The National Guard lined City Hall in anticipation for both the Wallace Jr. press conference and a protest on the election. When the Trump campaign announced Wednesday afternoon it would hold a press conference just blocks away from City Hall, calls for additional protests only intensified. In the end, however, the Trump campaign moved their conference, though by then protests were underway in downtown Philly.
Tom Digiulio, a public school teacher in West Philadelphia, told The Daily Beast he had participated in protests after the shooting in October and came to City Hall to protest any attempts to interfere with vote counting.
“There’s one side that’s trying to enfranchise democracy and there’s another side that is trying to disenfranchise voters,” Digiulio said.
At about 5:30 p.m., when the body-cam footage was finally released, at least 1,000 people protested outside of City Hall, combining the two dueling rallies into one demanding justice and equality.
“This is explicitly about the election, but the Walter Wallace situation is completely unignorable,” said Eric Jenkins, a Grays Ferry resident and organizer with Socialist Alternative, which co-organized the protest outside of City Hall.
In two 911 calls placed on Oct. 26 by Wallace Jr.’s sister and a neighbor, released Wednesday, both stressed that he was in distress. The neighbor mentioned a “fight” at Wallace Jr.'s house and said that “somebody asked me to call the cops right away.”
“I am the daughter to my mother and my father and my brother, they called the cops earlier and the cops are not doing nothing,” the sister is heard telling dispatchers minutes later. “He is over here hitting my mother and my father.”
The sister, who was not at the home, then said her brother wasn’t armed but was on probation. She requested an ambulance because her father was “about to faint” and her mother’s “blood pressure is all the way up.”
“And they are there screaming so I don’t know what's going on over there,” she adds.
The body-cam footage then shows Matarazzo and Munz—both from the 18th district—arriving at the house. They can almost immediately be heard yelling “put the knife down now” while people in the background also yell what sounds like, “he’s mental” and ask Wallace Jr. drop the weapon.
“Put the knife down now! Put the knife down now!” the officer with the body-cam yells, with his weapon drawn. The footage shows Wallace Jr. walking along the sidewalk then the street as several people scream at him and gather near the street. A woman also appears to be holding Wallace Jr. by his shoulder.
Then, as the 27-year-old walks around a car, both officers open fire—though he never appeared to be running towards them. The woman who was holding Wallace Jr.’s shoulder immediately runs into the street, screaming, crying and throwing something at the officers as they call for backup while Wallace, Jr. lies in the middle of the road.
“You killed my baby,” the woman is heard yelling before a group crowds around the body. One woman tugs on his arm while another, wearing a BLM shirt, asks people to “back up.”
Video captured by an eyewitness and posted to social media also shows police firing several shots at Wallace Jr., as his mom begged the officers not to shoot. Wallace’s wife told police he had mental health issues, Johnson, the family attorney, previously said.
In the body-camera footage, a woman can be seen telling one officer, “I just told y’all he’s mental.” Over a dozen people gathered in the street as the two cops tried to contain the situation and wait for backup, prompting one officer at one point suggesting getting into a squad car and “sweep them.”
After the shooting, Wallace Jr. was transported to a nearby hospital, where he was pronounced dead. He was reportedly a father of seven and his wife was expecting another child.
Johnson said Wallace Jr. “appeared to be a person in sort of a cloud or a stupor or just not appreciating the gravity of that particular moment.”
“But what you did not see, and what you will not see—and mark my words on this—you will not see a man with a knife lunging at anyone,” he added.