PHILADELPHIA — In the moments before two Philadelphia police officers fatally shot Walter Wallace Jr. outside his family’s West Philadelphia home last week, the officers repeatedly told Wallace to put down a knife he was holding, while people on the street yelled that Wallace was “mental” and screamed “no” as walked in the street around the officers with their guns drawn.
The chaotic events were captured on the officers’ bodycam footage, which the city released Wednesday night along with 911 tapes and police radio calls that preceded the shooting.
About four seconds before the officers opened fire, the video shows, one of the officers told the other: “Shoot him.” Wallace then collapsed to the ground in a hail of bullets, causing witnesses to rush into the street to surround him, and Wallace’s mother to scream, “You killed my son!”
The footage was released following an evening news conference with Mayor Jim Kenney, Commissioner Danielle Outlaw, District Attorney Larry Krasner and other city officials and clergy members.
Outlaw identified the two officers who fired the shots as Thomas Munz Jr., 26, a three-year veteran of the force, and Sean Matarazzo, 25, on the force since 2018. Both were assigned to the 18th District.
Kenney, called the footage “graphic,” “violent” and “traumatic,” and said: “It will elicit anger, rage, distress, evoke more questions — and rightfully so.”
Krasner apologized for what he said was a failure by government to protect Wallace, whose relatives have said they called 911 because he was experiencing a mental health crisis before he began walking toward the two responding officers with a knife. He said an investigation into possible criminal charges against the officers was ongoing.
Both Kenney and Krasner called for protesters — who had already flooded the streets around City Hall Wednesday night — to avoid resorting to vandalism or property destruction, with the mayor saying: “Nothing is solved with more destructions or harm to our communities.”
The announcement came as the eyes of the nation are on Philadelphia, with ballots still being counted in a presidential election that may hinge on Pennsylvania voters. Demonstrations on city streets demanding that all votes be counted had converged with calls for justice in the wake of another Black man’s death at the hands of police.
“Long live Walter Wallace,” protesters chanted around 6 p.m. on Broad Street.
Wallace’s family reviewed the recordings last week in a meeting with Outlaw and other city officials. The commissioner had pledged to publicly release the police videos of the killing, as well as audio of the 911 calls, after the family saw them.
Wallace’s killing — as his family watched outside their West Philadelphia home on Oct. 26. — raised questions about the police response to what his family’s attorney called “an obvious mental health crisis.”
In the years Wallace spent in and out of the criminal justice system, court records show that city judges routinely sought to get him mental health treatment. At the time of his death, he was receiving help at a nearby mental health outreach center.
Officers had responded to Wallace’s West Philadelphia home 31 times for reports of disturbances in recent months, including twice on the morning of his death, Oct. 26. After a third call that day, two officers arrived on Wallace’s street to find him carrying a knife. The officers shot him as he approached them, as Wallace’s family and neighbors pleaded for them not to fire.
The Wallace family’s lawyer, Shaka Johnson, said that before the shooting, relatives had called 911 asking for an ambulance — not police officers. He said Wallace’s pregnant wife told officers when they arrived that her husband had bipolar disorder.
Radio recordings reviewed by The Inquirer showed that the officers were dispatched to the address on Locust Street Monday afternoon after a report of a “27-year-old male assaulting an elderly female and male” at the home. The dispatch made no mention of Wallace’s mental condition.
©2020 The Philadelphia Inquirer