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Before two Philadelphia police officers fatally shot Walter Wallace Jr. in an incident that led to nights of unrest and grieving across the city, a woman watching the chaotic scene unfold pleaded that the 27-year-old Black man holding a knife was “mental,” according to body-camera footage released Wednesday.
The cops didn’t respond and continued to demand that Wallace drop the knife in the encounter outside his parents’ home on October 26. Another man on the sidewalk appeared to try and grab the back of Wallace’s shirt before he walked into the road and in front of an officer’s raised weapon. An officer can be heard saying, “shoot him.” Seconds later, cops fired 14 shots.
“You killed my son!” Wallace’s mother, Cathy Wallace, cried, according to body-camera footage.
“I just told y’all he’s mental,” a woman said, as sobs and screams filled the road where bystanders rushed to Wallace’s body.
Family members have described Wallace as a talented rapper who had just wanted to live a comfortable life. But he had bipolar disorder and was off his medication at the time of his death, according to the Washington Post. Last week, his wife, Dominique Wallace, gave birth to his ninth child, according to the Bucks County Courier Times.
Wallace’s family has said they called 911 for an ambulance to address Wallace’s mental health crisis the day that he died, rather than asking for police intervention. But officers had already been at the home twice on October 26 before they responded to a third call that ended in Wallace’s death, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.
The body-worn camera footage released Wednesday shows that Wallace initially walked out of his home and slowly toward one of the officers before he crossed in front of a white sedan parked on the side of the road, entered the street, and started walking in the direction of the second officer.
Throughout the encounter, officers demanded that Wallace drop the knife he was holding. Both Wallace’s mother and another man can be seen trying to stop Wallace as he moved to cross the street once more and stepped in front of the officers, who had their weapons raised. The video shows that Wallace was about the length of an SUV away from the officers when they shot him, although one of the officers in the body-worn camera footage can be heard saying that Wallace was “fucking chasing us.” Less than a minute elapsed between the start of the footage and officers shooting Wallace.
The incident is being investigated by the local district attorney’s office and the Philadelphia Police Department’s internal affairs unit.
The president of the local Fraternal Order of Police, whose lawyers are representing the officers, said in a statement that Wallace had perpetrated the “real violence.”
“These officers followed their training and police department policy. It’s completely inappropriate that these officers continue to be vilified for doing their job,” John McNesby said in a statement. “Mayor Kenney has called this ‘police violence,’ however the real violence was perpetrated by a knife-wielding man, who confronted our police officers.”
Wallace’s family members, however, have said he was experiencing a mental health crisis and that officers didn’t need to kill him.His death set off waves of protests and looting across the city.
For years, disability and mental health advocates have demanded police reforms to address the fact that people living with mental illnesses and disabilities account for anywhere from a third to half of all police killings.
Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw has said the officers didn’t have Tasers or similar devices on them when they encountered Wallace, and that her department “sorely needed” to establish a behavioral health unit, according to the Associated Press, which Outlaw’s since said she’ll form.
In a press conference Wednesday, Outlaw said the Philadelphia Police Department has been working on “continuous improvement” with the city’s behavioral health department, including mechanisms to better identify crisis calls made to 911 and determine the best response and other reforms.
Up until Wednesday, Outlaw noted, the city’s police department also had not ever released body-camera footage for an “officer-involved shooting.”
“We understand that these materials will be painful to view, but transparency is necessary to make meaningful changes in our city,” Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney said about the body-camera footage on Twitter Wednesday. “With this release, we hope residents can see that we are committed to an open process—one that acknowledges our collective grief and helps our communities begin to heal.”
The officers who shot Wallace were identified Wednesday as Thomas Munz, a 26-year-old, and Sean Matarazzo, a 25-year-old, who have been with the department since 2017 and 2018, respectively. They’re currently on desk duty.
The family’s lawyer, Shaka Johnson, said last week that they don’t want murder charges against the officers, adding the cops were “improperly trained and did not have the proper equipment by which to effectuate their job,” according to CNN.
The city also released audio from the police dispatch and 911 calls that took place before the incident. In one of the 911 calls, made around 3:40 p.m. that day, Wallace’s sister said her brother was “over there hitting my mother and my father” while the police weren’t doing anything. She told a dispatcher that Wallace was on probation and had a history of violence. About a minute later, a man called police to say his mother needed help and requested assistance. People can be heard shouting in the background. A neighbor also called 911 for help and said people were fighting.
After the unrest spurred by Wallace’s death, the National Guard was deployed to Philadelphia on Friday. Protests continued Wednesday night but appeared related both to the shooting and the efforts of President Donald Trump’s campaign to falsely declare victory in Pennsylvania and stop mail-in ballots from being counted there.