In the moments before two Philadelphia police officers fatally shot Walter Wallace Jr. outside his family’s West Philadelphia home last week, people on the street yelled that Wallace was “mental” and screamed “no” as he walked toward two officers with their guns drawn as they repeatedly told Wallace to put down the knife.
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.
The entire encounter between the officers and Wallace lasted less than a minute. And about four seconds before the officers opened fire, the video shows one of them telling the other: “Shoot him.” The officers then fired 14 shots, and Wallace collapsed to the ground, 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, Police 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, which covers part of West Philadelphia.
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 he was experiencing a mental health crisis before he began walking toward the two responding officers with a knife. Krasner said an investigation into possible criminal charges against the officers was ongoing. Police were also continuing to investigate, Outlaw said.
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 in response to the video. “Nothing is solved with more destructions or harm to our communities,” the mayor said.
Meanwhile, John McNesby, the head of the police officers' union, ripped Kenney for “casting blame” on the officers, who McNesby said had done their jobs correctly. “The real violence was perpetrated by a knife-wielding man, who confronted our police officers,” McNesby said in a statement.
The release of the footage came as the eyes of the nation were on Philadelphia, with ballots still being counted in a presidential election in which Pennsylvania voters had proven crucial. Demonstrations on city streets demanding that all votes be counted converged at night 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. A short time later and a few blocks away — after the video had been released — Krystal Strong, an organizer with Black Lives Matter Philly, told a crowd in front of Independence Mall, “There is no videotape evidence that will ever allow us to say that their life does not matter. That they do not deserve to live....The fact remains that Walter Wallace Jr. should still be here.”
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.
Krasner said Wednesday that authorities had given Wallace’s family the chance to approve which audio tapes and video footage would be released, and that they’d respected the family’s wishes about which materials would not be shared.
“We were going to listen to them when they said, ‘I want these audiotapes released, and I want video up to a certain point,’” Krasner said. “We have protected that family. We have done exactly what they asked us to do: Be transparent, but also protect their privacy in a moment of tragedy that is devastating.”
The 911 calls provided as part of a compilation began around 3:42 p.m. on Oct. 26. The recordings provided the most definitive account yet of who called 911 and what callers told operators before the shooting.
During the first call, a neighbor on the 6100 block of Locust Street asked the operator to send police to the apartment next door.
“The people next door are fighting,” the neighbor said, adding that a man was fighting his parents. "Somebody asked me to call the cops right away.'
Seconds later, Wallace’s sister called 911, telling an operator: “My brother — they called the cops earlier, and the cops is not doing nothing. He’s over there hitting my mother and my father and I’m over here shouting.”
The sister said Wallace had no weapons but was on probation and had a criminal record. Her father felt faint, she said, her mother’s blood pressure was dangerously high, and her parents were screaming.
“Police are going to help your parents out — stay on the line for medics,” the operator replied.
After waiting for five rings, Wallace’s sisters hung up, though the operator stayed on the call to request that an ambulance be sent to the home.
A minute later, a man who did not give his name called 911. Screaming could be heard in the background.
“My mom needs help — 6124 Locust Street,” the man shouted before dropping the call.
An attorney for the family, Shaka Johnson, had said last week that Wallace’s relatives requested an ambulance be sent to the house — not police. Neither Johnson nor members of the Wallace family could be reached for comment late Wednesday to discuss the calls, or whether the request for a non-police response had been made on a call not included in the compilation.
On the video footage, 41 seconds passed between the time police arrived at the scene and when they began firing at Wallace.
As the officers approached the home, a man could be heard inside trying to calm Wallace, asking him to put down a knife. Wallace then slowly walked outside into the street and toward one officer, and both yelled at him to drop the weapon.
Family members shouted “no,” and Wallace’s pregnant wife shouted at police that her husband was “mental.” Wallace’s mother at one point chased after him, putting herself between her son and the cops pointing their guns.
But Wallace walked away from her and eluded the grasp of another man who tried to stop him. Wallace then ducked between two cars, toward an officer in the street.
“Shoot him,” one of the officers said. Seconds later, they both fired, and Wallace fell to the ground.
The screams of Wallace’s mother filled the street.
Please be advised that this video contains graphic and violent material that is difficult to watch and may be upsetting to some viewers.
As a crowd gathered around his body, officers said they needed to put him in the police car to take him to the hospital. One of the officers who fired told a colleague: “He was f— chasing us."
The Rev. Mark Kelly Tyler, pastor of Mother Bethel AME Church, was among the clergy members who spoke at the news conference Wednesday, calling for peace and healing while continuing to push for law enforcement reforms.
Still, whatever hope Tyler had was tempered to a degree. He said the Police Department had failed to carry out some recommendations from several years ago when the Justice Department weighed in on the department’s use-of-force policies. As a result, Tyler said, Muntz and Matarazzo were left to respond to the scene that day without being equipped with Tasers, and their partnership featured two cops with a combined six years of experience on the job.
“If [police] had adhered to what the plan said five years ago,” Tyler said, “Walter Wallace would be alive today."
Staff writers Oona Goodin-Smith, Anna Orso, Samantha Melamed, Dylan Purcell, and Wendy Ruderman contributed to this article.