Family of Philadelphia Man Killed by Officers While Wielding Knife Sought Ambulance, Not Police
The family of a man fatally shot by Philadelphia police allege the officers' show of force was an excessive and improper response to a 911 call they'd placed for an ambulance to help with what they believed was a mental health crisis.
The victim, 27-year-old Walter Wallace Jr., a married father of nine, died following the shooting. The incident was caught on video Monday afternoon after the officers say he defied an order to drop a knife.
Police knew her son was troubled, Wallace's mother Cathy Wallace told reporters Tuesday night, because officers had been to the family's home three times earlier that day.
On one of those visits, she alleged, "they stood there and laughed at us,” reports Philadelphia TV station WCAU.
Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney responded to the incident with a statement saying, in part, "I have watched the video of this tragic incident and it presents difficult questions that must be answered."
Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw said an investigation into the officers' actions was underway.
"I will be leaning on what the investigation gleans to answer the many unanswered questions that exist," she said in a news release.
In a separate news conference Tuesday, Outlaw vowed to release more information about the shooting in days to come, but said the officers were not carrying Tasers at the time of the confrontation. “It’s common for officers to respond to domestic disturbance or any type of call with a gun because it’s one of the tools we carry on our tool belt,” she said, reports The New York Times.
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Two days of protests in the city have followed the shooting, with vandalism and looting in parts of the city and businesses told to expect a curfew will go into effect on Wednesday, reports The Philadelphia Inquirer.
John McNesby, president of the Fraternal Police Order of Lodge 5, said officers acted appropriately to protect themselves and tweeted a video message calling on the city to "release the facts" and "support your officers."
The names of the officers involved in the incident have not been released.
“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?” Shaka Johnson, an attorney for the Wallace family, told reporters Tuesday, reports the Associated Press.
She said the 911 call to request medical assistance and an ambulance had been placed by Wallace's brother.
Police officials did not say what information the officers had prior to the incident, or how many calls they'd received for help at Wallace's address prior to the shooting, although Chief Police Inspector Frank Vanore confirmed a call that reported a man screaming and saying he was armed with a knife, reports WCAU.
Bystander video posted on social media shows officers in the street yelling for Wallace to drop a knife, as Wallace's mother and at least one man follow, urging Wallace to heed the officers, as he crosses the street and between cars. As Wallace advanced toward the officers, they fired several shots, striking him in the shoulder and chest, said police spokesperson Tanya Little, according to WCAU.
One officer drove Wallace to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead a short time later, said Little.
The shooting echoes other headline-grabbing incidents this summer that led protesters across the country to demand police pull back on responses and "defund" policing to redirect some resources toward mental health and social service responses.
Wallace's father, Walter Wallace Sr., told reporters Tuesday he was haunted by images of what happened to his son, even as he called for an end to looting and unrest in the city that he said is "not helping my family; they’re showing disrespect.”
“It’s in my mind," he said of the shooting. "I can’t even sleep at night. I can’t even close my eyes."