The 911 calls and body camera footage showing the police killing of Walter Wallace Jr., a 27-year-old Black man shot by officers late last month in Philadelphia, was released to the public Wednesday
In a press conference on Wednesday, Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney called the incident “incredibly painful” and said that the video “may be intense and traumatic for many people to watch.”
“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. “We will learn from our failings and we will do better.”
Officials identified the officers involved in the Oct. 26 fatal shooting as Sean Matarazzo, 25, and Thomas Munz, 26. Matarazzo has worked for the department since 2018, and Munz since 2017.
Police said Wallace had approached officers while carrying a knife, leading officers to fire multiple times.
But according to his family, Wallace had mental health problems, and his mother had been trying to deescalate the situation before he was killed. Family members had called 911 requesting medical assistance for Wallace, but instead, police showed up to the scene, attorney Shaka Johnson said at a press conference shortly after Wallace’s death. "The ambulance never made it," Johnson said. "[Officers] didn't have the training and the tools to do the job effectively and, as such, a man was murdered."
Cellphone video of the incident circulated online after it happened, showing two officers with guns drawn walking back as Wallace walked toward them. They then fired several shots, and Wallace can be seen falling to the ground.
The bodycam footage backs up the cellphone videos, showing Wallace exiting the house with a knife in hand and the officers yelling at him to drop it. A woman runs out of the house behind Wallace and runs up to him. While Wallace is on the street, still holding the knife, one officer is heard saying to another, "shoot him." Several shots were then fired and Wallace collapsed.
The shooting is still under investigation, and it is not yet clear when the investigation will be completed, Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw said Wednesday.
This marks the first time the Philadelphia Police Department has publicly released video of a police shooting, according to Outlaw.
“While this is not a milestone to be celebrated, we truly believe this is an important step in our commitment to transparency,” Outlaw said.
Despite claims from the local police union president that Wallace was seen “lunging” at officers in the video, Johnson said that was not true and that the bodycam footage would make that clear. “What you will not see...and mark my words on this, you will not see a man with a knife lunging at police,” Johnson said.
In a joint statement on Friday, the Philadelphia mayor, district attorney, police commissioner, and Wallace family said releasing the body camera footage and 911 audio “is in the best interest of our city and its residents.”
“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.”
A day before the statement was released, the Wallace family viewed the body camera footage and heard the 911 call, Johnson said at a press conference.
Wallace was being treated with lithium for bipolar disorder, his family has said, and Johnson said it was very clear from the footage that Wallace was experiencing a psychotic episode.
“I saw a person in obvious mental health crisis,” Johnson said of the video. “My auditory senses heard people shouting, ‘He’s mental, he’s mental.’ And when you’re a police officer, you need to respond to these scenes with all your faculties employed — sight, hearing, etc.”
Johnson said the family did not want to pursue murder charges against the two officers, who were not armed with Tasers during the incident. That decision will ultimately be left up to the district attorney.
In the Wednesday press conference, District Attorney Larry Krasner became emotional, saying it was the government’s duty to protect Wallace, and they had failed to do so.
“When a mother was trying to get help for a situation involving her son, who had mental illness and can’t be blamed for that ... the government failed, because her son was killed within a minute of the government’s arrival,” Krasner said. “As a part of government, I apologize for that.”
“Those particular officers were only given a tool by which to assassinate,” Johnson said. “No Taser, no less than lethal device that would’ve been so appropriate in this particular circumstance. ... They were improperly trained and did not have the proper equipment with which to effectuate their job.”
Wallace was a father, had recently gotten married, and "didn't deserve what he got," his family said in a statement obtained by NBC Philadelphia.
"Walter was a nice man. He would do anything and everything for anybody," the family said. "No matter what the favor was or what time it was he would always come through.”
Protests and unrest broke out in Philadelphia following Wallace’s death, much as it did over the summer in response to the police killing of George Floyd.
In an interview with CNN, Wallace’s father, Walter Wallace Sr., asked for protesters to remain peaceful, saying he didn’t “want to leave a bad scar on my son and my family with this looting and chaos stuff.”
"The looting is a mindset and it’s not going to bring my son back,” Wallace Sr. said.