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‘Shoot him,’ officer said before firing at Walter Wallace Jr., lawyer says bodycam footage shows

The family's lawyer, Shaka Johnson, said the video showed Wallace “in obvious mental health crisis."

Attorney Shaka Johnson (center) responds to a question during a press conference with the family of Walter Wallace Jr, 27, who was shot and killed by police officers in West Philadelphia on Monday, Oct. 26, 2020.
Attorney Shaka Johnson (center) responds to a question during a press conference with the family of Walter Wallace Jr, 27, who was shot and killed by police officers in West Philadelphia on Monday, Oct. 26, 2020.Read moreELIZABETH ROBERTSON / Staff Photographer

Video from body cameras worn by the officers who shot Walter Wallace Jr. on Monday show them telling him to drop a knife he was holding, people on his West Philadelphia street yelling out that he was mentally distressed, and one officer telling the other, “Shoot him,” before both began firing, according to the lawyer for relatives who saw the footage on Thursday.

Speaking outside City Hall hours after Wallace’s family reviewed the recordings and met with Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw and other city officials, lawyer Shaka Johnson said the footage was brief but showed Wallace “in obvious mental health crisis” before being shot at 14 times by the two officers.

» LATEST UPDATES: Find the most recent news on the fatal police shooting of Walter Wallace Jr. here.

“It’s a lot of commotion and chaos," Johnson said, adding that Wallace, before he was shot, appeared to be walking around "in a cloud … like a person who didn’t understand the gravity of the situation.”

Outlaw had pledged to publicly release the police videos of the killing, as well as audio of the 911 calls, after the family saw them. In a statement late Thursday, the Mayor’s Office and the District Attorney’s Office said they expected the materials to be released by the end of next week.

But police radio recordings reviewed by The Inquirer on Thursday showed that the officers were dispatched to the address Monday afternoon on Locust Street based on a report of “27-year-old male assaulting an elderly female and male” at the home. The dispatch recordings included no mention of Wallace’s mental health history, or the two times police had already responded to calls of disturbances at the same address that day.

Police did not identify the two officers who shot at Wallace, and did not say why officials were not adhering to a department directive that says officers who shoot people will be publicly identified within 72 hours.

» READ MORE: Philadelphia police had launched a plan years ago to equip all patrol officers with Tasers. It never happened.

Johnson said the family met with city officials at 8:30 a.m., which he hoped would have given the city time to release the footage and other information before his 4 p.m. news conference. “I wish that you all had had the opportunity to view the video prior to this exact moment,” he said.

Despite repeatedly criticizing the officers for pulling their guns too quickly, Johnson said he was not advocating murder charges because he believed the biggest failure was that of the city, in failing to equip all police with Tasers.

“The only remedy the police had in that moment … was their service weapon,” said Johnson, a former police officer in Fulton County, Ga.

The family’s meeting with the Police Department leaders came during a week marked by ongoing tension over the shooting and its fallout. Demonstrations that coursed through the city on Monday and Tuesday night — some of which police said coincided with looting and clashes with officers — were much quieter Wednesday. Mayor Jim Kenney had imposed a 9 p.m. curfew; he chose not to renew it Thursday, when it was rainy and cold.

Still, officials were preparing for the possibility of unrest over the weekend, including at protests expected Saturday. National guardsmen were scheduled to arrive in the city by Friday, and officials have said they might remain in place until after Tuesday’s election, which has its own possibility of leading to turmoil.

» READ MORE: From police procedures to outdated laws to systemic racism, experts say the odds are stacked against Pennsylvanians like Walter Wallace Jr.

The Police Department said Thursday that it had made 212 arrests tied to unrest since Monday, the majority of them for burglary. It also reported that 57 officers had been injured and 18 police or fire vehicles damaged. Outlaw said some demonstrators threw bricks, bottles or even what appeared to be blood at officers. One suffered a broken leg after being hit by a car, police said.

Police did not say how many people had been injured during the demonstrations. Videos have circulated on social media this week showing aggressive behavior by some police, including one video recorded just before 2 a.m. Tuesday that showed a group of officers crowding a vehicle, smashing its windows, pulling the driver and passenger to the ground, and removing a toddler from the backseat.

Wallace’s shooting has become a political issue, with President Donald Trump, Democratic challenger Joe Biden, and a host of elected officials addressing the case. Thursday, city councilmembers passed a bill that was not sparked by Wallace’s killing but was nonetheless relevant due to the ongoing demonstrations: They banned the use of tear gas, rubber bullets, and pepper spray against demonstrators exercising their First Amendment rights.

The bill now heads to Kenney’s desk to await a potential signature.

Councilmembers also said they would hold a hearing on how the city can better respond to mental health issues and how the police interact with individuals having mental health crises.

» READ MORE: Philly police pulled a woman from SUV during unrest, beat her, separated her from her child, and handcuffed her at the hospital, attorney says

Wallace “was experiencing a mental health emergency and his family requested help for that emergency,” said Councilmember Cindy Bass, who sponsored the resolution calling for a hearing. "Walter deserved help and should have been here with us today.”

On Wednesday — two days after Wallace was killed — his wife, Dominique, gave birth to a baby girl named Ashonna Winter Wallace, Johnson said. The baby was Wallace’s ninth child.

During the family’s news conference outside City Hall on Thursday, his parents grew emotional. As questions about the video depicting Wallace’s killing continued at the news conference, his mother, Kathy Brant, had to step away and sit down for a few minutes.

“Regardless of who, everybody deserves life,” said Wallace’s father, also named Walter Wallace, who said he wants “to see justice for my son." At one point he called Kenney a “coward” for not apologizing on behalf of the city.

When Brant returned to the microphones, she said: " I wouldn’t wish this on no one’s child at all."

Wallace’s funeral has been scheduled for Nov. 7, Johnson said.

While it remained unclear Thursday when the Police Department might release the footage and 911 recordings, radio calls of the incident reviewed by The Inquirer buttress the notion that the chaotic episode turned deadly in just minutes.

According to the recordings, just after 3:40 p.m. Monday — during a shift change for police — a police dispatcher put a call over the radio of a “27-year-old male assaulting an elderly female and male” inside an apartment on the 6100 block of Locust Street.

Within moments, two 18th District officers beginning their shift picked up the call. A dispatcher said medics were also heading to the scene. There was no mention of Wallace’s potential mental health issues.

» READ MORE: Walter Wallace Jr. received mental health treatment just days before his death. A West Philly crisis center questions why it wasn’t included in Monday’s response.

Just moments after the initial call, a police supervisor instructed dispatch to warn the officers to “use caution” due to “an ongoing domestic issue.” Police had already responded to the Wallace home twice that day for domestic dispute calls.

The radio communications intensified as soon as officers arrived on scene. “All right, I’m getting this male is armed with a knife,” the radio dispatcher said, requesting more patrol cars to head to the scene.

The officers requested backup, but less than six minutes from the time of the call, shots were fired.

One officer said over the radio: “This individual got shot by police.”

Johnson criticized the officers for not attempting to de-escalate the situation. "Very shortly into the interaction,” he said, the officers “unsheathe their weapons from the holster.”

As he has for most of the week, Johnson continued to insist that the biggest problem was systemic, contending that the officers were not properly trained or equipped to deal with a mental health crisis.

“The city has failed not only the Wallace family, not only the other members of their community,” Johnson said, “the city has also failed those police officers.”

Staff writer Ellie Silverman contributed to this article.