Video: Cops Shoot Mentally Ill Black Man 16 Times

Police say they shot Joseph Mann, who was carrying a knife, in self-defense. His family says they should have helped him instead.

Darcy Costello/AP

New video released by the family of a mentally ill black man killed by Sacramento police last month shows he was standing far away from cops when they opened fire, killing him with 16 gunshots.

Police defended their July 11 shooting of Joseph Mann as an act of self-defense because they said the 51-year-old man was acting erratic with a knife. The footage released last week by the law firm representing the family in a lawsuit against the police department suggests otherwise.

Video shows Mann running back and forth across a street in front of squad cars before he comes to rest against a wall some distance from two officers. Mann does not appear to move toward the officers when they open fire.

Mann’s family alleged in a lawsuit against the police that his killing was an unwarranted act of police force and that police ignored Mann’s obvious mental distress, violating protocols for deescalating encounters with the mentally ill.

Bystanders first called police around 9:30 a.m. on July 11, reporting a man acting irrationally, armed with a knife and possibly a gun. Mann was acting “really crazy,” police spokesperson Sergeant Bryce Heinlein told the Los Angeles Times after the shooting. Police say he charged a patrol vehicle with a folding knife, before running back to the sidewalk. Two officers approached him from squad cars, guns drawn.

“The subject turned back towards them, armed with a knife,” police said in a statement. “Fearing for their lives and the safety of the community, two officers discharged their firearms striking the man multiple times.”

But the Mann family’s new footage casts doubt on the self-defense claim. The shaky video appears to show Mann standing upright on the sidewalk. He appears not to move, unlike the officers who move toward him from the street. Mann does not appear to make any sudden movements, but a rapid volley of shots ring out and Mann falls to the ground. No gun was found on his person.

Mann’s family said in the lawsuit that police opened fire on a retreating man, “tattooing him from heel to chest with gunshot wounds as he feebly attempted to leave the scene.”

But the violence could have been avoided altogether if police had followed protocol for dealing with the mentally distressed, the family says. Footage of the minutes before the shooting shows Mann walking away from police on the sidewalk while they trail him in squad cars, giving orders through a loudspeaker.

“Stop right now with your hands in the air and drop the knife,” one officer said through the broadcast system.

On video, Mann becomes visibly upset, shouting and throwing an unidentifiable object at the squad car from a distance. He paces back and forth across the road while another police vehicles approach him from three sides.

“He was displaying overt signs of being in the midst of mental crisis,” Mann family attorney John Burris wrote in the suit. “For example, he was doing karate moves and zigzagging back and forth across the street as he tried to walk away from the Officers.”

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Citing an ongoing investigation on Mann’s death, the Sacramento police department would not elaborate on their official policies for de-escalating confrontations with the mentally ill.

“Our officers receive a large amount of crisis intervention training through the academy and go through yearly crisis intervention training,” Sergeant Bryce Heinlein told The Daily Beast.

But the Mann family says the officers directly violated protocols that would have put Mann in the care of mental health professionals, instead of cornering him with squad cars and loudspeakers.

“The Officers confronted and aggressively pursued him down the Boulevard with their guns drawn while barking commands at him from the safety of their patrol vehicles. Inexplicably, the Officers failed to contact any mental health counselors, make an attempt to use less than lethal force or deescalate the situation,” Burris wrote.

“Instead, they abandoned their positions of safety behind their patrol vehicles and rushed toward Decedent Mann provoking a close range confrontation.”