Philadelphia police on Wednesday promised to release body camera footage captured in the police shooting death of Walter Wallace Jr. on Oct. 26, and named the officers involved in the shooting.
Wallace’s family said they called 911 to request an ambulance and medical assistance for the 27-year-old, who was having a mental health crisis. Instead, police officers Thomas Munz and Sean Matarazzo responded. After Wallace approached them holding a knife, they fired at least 14 shots, killing him.
The officers have been pulled from street duty, pending an investigation.
Wallace’s pregnant wife, Dominique, told officers that her husband had bipolar disorder and was in crisis, according to family attorney Shaka Johnson.
A bystander video of the encounter went viral almost immediately, fueling protests across the city. The demonstrations — and occasional civil unrest — were the latest in a series of protests demanding police accountability and decrying racism that began after George Floyd was killed by Minneapolis police in May.
District Attorney Larry Krasner said the city decided not to release all the footage at the request of the Wallace family, who asked it be truncated.
In the widely circulated social media video, Wallace emerges from a house with a knife in his hand. Family members in the background can be heard shouting about his mental health as he approaches the officers, who instruct him to “drop the knife.”
Wallace’s mother trails behind him, pleading with Wallace to listen to the officers. Wallace instead holds onto the knife and walks toward the officers, who open fire.
The family has not pushed for the officers to be charged with murder, instead pointing out structural problems in the police force, like the lack of training to deal with mental health crises and inadequate resources, like stun guns.
The Philadelphia Police Department only has 2,300 tasers, commissioner Danielle Outlaw said. To outfit every officer with one, the department needs 4,500.
“When you come to a scene where somebody is in a mental crisis, and the only tool you have to deal with it is a gun … Where are the proper tools for the job?” Johnson asked at a news conference on Oct. 27.
Whatever the family’s wishes, however, the charging decision ultimately lies with Krasner. Johnson said the family does intend to file a wrongful death suit.
Philadelphia’s mayor, district attorney and police commissioner pleaded for calm in a joint statement last Friday and pledged to release the body camera footage the day after the election.
“Philadelphians are experiencing an immense amount of pain, and significant unrest persists throughout the entire city,” the statement said.
“The collective hope of our local government and the Wallace family is that releasing the recordings on November 4 will provide enough time to calm tensions and for the recordings to be released in the most constructive manner possible.”