The family of Walter Wallace Jr. is not calling for the Philadelphia police officers who fatally shot him to be charged with murder, family attorney Shaka Johnson told reporters on Thursday.
“And here’s why, here’s why: they were improperly trained and did not have the proper equipment by which to effectuate their job,” Johnson said.
The comments came after the family watched body camera footage of the moments leading up to Wallace’s death, which Johnson said shows him in an “obvious mental health crisis.”
The footage, which is about 30-40 seconds long, shows Wallace emerging from a house with a knife as family members shout about his mental condition, he said.
“When Mr. Wallace comes out of the house, at least on this video we don’t hear him say anything,” Johnson said. “It seems to be a person in sort of a cloud or a stupor or just not appreciating the gravity of that particular moment, which would align perfectly with what the family was shouting, ‘he’s mental, he’s mental.’
“He was behaving like a person who didn’t appreciate the gravity of the circumstances.”
The family viewed the footage and 911 audio recordings related to the incident earlier on Thursday. The calls, footage and a history of police responses to the home will be released to the public in the coming days, Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw said Wednesday.
Johnson said the officers fired 14 times at Wallace as about a car-and-a-half-length distance away. He said the city had failed the officers by not giving them less-lethal options such as a Taser to handle such situations.
“Those particular officers were only given a tool by which to assassinate,” he said.
Johnson told reporters he has been in touch with District Attorney Larry Krasner and that office is reviewing whether the officers will be charged with any crimes related to the shooting.
Wallace, 27, was shot and killed Monday while holding a knife during a confrontation with police in West Philadelphia. His family has said he suffered from bipolar disorder and was in crisis at the time of the shooting.
The police shooting has set off unrest in the city the past few nights, with demonstrators marching in the streets and some incidents of looting, property destruction and attacks on police officers. A citywide curfew of 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. began Wednesday night and will be reevaluated daily, Mayor Jim Kenney said.
Pennsylvania National Guard members will guard businesses to prevent looting, but troops will not be deployed until later this week, officials said.
In the past three nights, there have been 212 arrests, and 57 officers have been injured, including one who remains hospitalized, officials said.
On Thurday, US Attorney of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania William M. McSwain announced federal charges against four people who allegedly destroyed police vehicles during unrest on May 30. McSwain warned that any violence this week would similarly be punished.
What led to the shooting
Authorities are investigating what the two responding officers, who didn’t have Tasers, knew when they answered a call about a man with a knife.
Police said the incident started with a call about a man with a knife, KYW reported. Officers who responded saw a man brandishing a knife and waving it erratically, Philadelphia Police Sgt. Eric Gripp told KYW.
Shaka Johnson, an attorney for Wallace’s family, said relatives had made at least three calls to authorities that day. The initial call was for an ambulance, he said, but police arrived first.
It’s unclear how many calls police responded to on Monday. CNN reached out to police and the family attorney for clarity.
At a Tuesday news conference, police officials did not answer questions about whether officers were there earlier in the day or had previously interacted with Wallace. They did not say what officers knew of the situation prior to arrival.
When police arrived at the man’s house, JaHiem Simpson, who took video of the police shooting, told CNN a person who he later was told was Wallace’s mother told police that Wallace had mental health issues.
Simpson said Wallace exited the house with a knife and everybody told him to put the knife down. Simpson said he saw officers pull their guns as soon as they saw the knife.
The two officers can be seen in the video backing up as he walks towards them. Multiple shots ring out as police fire, striking him. Sgt. Gripp told KYW that an officer took Wallace in his police cruiser to Presbyterian Hospital, where he died.
Officers did not have tasers
Former Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey told CNN’s “New Day” the case is not as clear-cut as some other police shootings because Wallace was armed.
“Well, I mean, listen, you never want deadly force to be the outcome of any encounter,” Ramsey said. “And I can see in the tape that they were backing up and so forth. At some point in time, the distance was beginning to close between themselves and the individual.”
Wallace’s father, Walter Wallace Sr., said the standoff did not need to end with his son’s death.
“It could have been dealt with in a different way,” he told CNN. “He could have called a superior to handle the situation.”
Johnson, the attorney for the Wallace family, said that if the officers had had a less lethal option, such as a Taser, the outcome could have been different.
“The officers did not have what they needed. There wasn’t a less-than-lethal option available. They didn’t have Tasers,” Johnson explained. “A person is in mental decline and in crisis.”
There are about 4,500 patrol officers on the Philadelphia police force and the department has 2,300 Tasers, Outlaw said in the news conference Wednesday.
The department gets $900,000 a year for the electrical weapons, enough to buy a few hundred per year, she said.
“What the conversation is today is how do we ensure that we get enough Tasers so that every officer — at least every officer that’s working in operations — has a Taser,” Outlaw said.