Philadelphia Police released footage Wednesday night that shows officers killing Walter Wallace Jr. on Oct. 26, while at the same time city leaders called for patience and calm as officials investigate and determine whether the officers will be charged.
The video and audio released captures Wallace's final moments, the 911 calls that led up to it, and the neighborhood erupting in shock and grief after seeing and hearing the shots.
It begins with the 911 calls from neighbors seeking a police response and an ambulance to an apartment in a rowhome near 61st and Locust streets. The calls mention a relative with high blood pressure and reports of people screaming.
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After the calls are played, the body camera footage cuts in, showing 18th District officers Thomas Munz and Sean Matarazzo responding to the calls. They stand at the bottom steps outside the home, calling to someone inside. Then Wallace, 27, who held a knife, enters the frame. Family members said he was in a mental health crisis at the time.
(Munz, 26, joined the force in 2017; Matarazzo, 25, joined in 2018. Their names were not public until Wednesday.)
With their guns drawn, the officers ordered Wallace to drop the knife, as he walks along a sidewalk and in between parked cars. The officers back away, drawing their guns. Wallace was seen stepping toward Munz and Matarazzo, who then fire their weapons. Family and neighbors gather around, many appearing to record videos on their smartphones.
A police official previously said each officer fired seven shots, but it was not clear how many hit Wallace.
WARNING: This video contains graphic violence, harsh language and a man’s death. A pair of videos showing two Philadelphia police officer’s encounter with Walter Wallace Jr. on Oct. 26, 2020 were released by the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office in conjunction with the Mayor’s Office, Philadelphia police and Wallace’s family on Nov. 3, 2020. We are showing all of the body-worn footage released by officials without editing for transparency. Viewer discretion is advised.
At a city news conference, it was too early to say whether the officers would be charged, as officials discussed (prior to its release) what the footage would show and how the police department, 911 dispatch and other city departments hope to learn and change after the incident.
Mayor Jim Kenney and others warned the video would be traumatic to watch. It is the first time Philly has ever publicly released bodycam footage of a fatal police shooting.
He alluded to the nights of unrest that followed Wallace's death, as looting broke out in some neighborhood commercial corridors despite peaceful protests.
"Further vandalism and destruction will only reinforce claims by outsiders that this transparency leads to violence in the first place," Kenney said.
But he said releasing the footage was an acknowledgment of a history that contained "so many failures to protect all of Philadelphia’s residents Black or brown."
"This is why we are releasing this footage, because things have to change, and they are changing," Kenney said.
City leaders met with the Wallace family last week to view the videos, listen to 911 calls, and discuss their release. District Attorney Larry Krasner said the family had a say in what audio clips were released, and where the publicly released video will cut off. Paraphrasing the family's wishes, he said they wanted the public to "see everything, without blurring anything."
Speaking to media Wednesday, Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw said an internal affairs investigation will be completed as soon as possible, but was not sure when that would be. The District Attorney's Office is also investigating and is not ruling out presenting the case to a grand jury, which have recommended charges in two other notable cases where a police officer took a civilian life.
"When a mother was trying to get help with a situation involving her son, who is blameless for his mental illness - when she did that, government failed," Krasner said. "Because her son was killed within a minute of government’s arrival. As a part of government, I apologize.”
The officers have not publicly commented in the hours since their names were made public. But the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5, which represents Philly cops in labor negotiations, said city leaders were "casting blame on these officers for this incident in which they were forced to make a split-second decision."
"These officers followed their training and police department policy. It’s completely inappropriate that these officers continue to be vilified for doing their job," Lodge President John McNesby said in a statement.
Rev. Mark Tyler of Mother Bethel AME Church asked for the media and public to give the family privacy. Wallace hasn't been buried yet, he said, while urging reporters to resist the temptation to speak to the many neighbors and witnesses seen on the video surrounding Wallace as he lay in the street.
Tyler also pointed out that 5 years ago, the U.S. Department of Justice and former Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey made several recommendations about policing - including pairing young officers with an older, more experienced partner. He also pointed out that the DOJ called for officers to be equipped with Tasers, which Munz and Matarazzo did not, according to Outlaw.
"If they had adhered to what the plan said 5 years ago, Walter Wallace would be alive today," Tyler told news cameras.
Beyond that, he hoped for a more systemic change in the department.
"Our hope is that we will not be satisfied with superficial changes. We're glad that the Frank Rizzo statue is gone, but we need the culture that Frank Rizzo embodied to be gone from policing in Philadelphia. We don't need to stand here again for another Walter Wallace, or David Jones, or Brandon Tate-Brown, or insert whatever name you want here."
Much of the evening news conference, though, focused on changes to how Philadelphia Police will respond to mental health calls. The department and the city's DBHIDS pledged to be better coordinated, and will install a crisis-trained behavioral health specialist in the 911 dispatch center to help direct mental health providers to emergency calls that need them.
They continue to work on a co-responder program, where a behavioral health specialist will be able to go out on calls. On top of that, a plan is in place to train all city dispatchers on crisis interventions by the fall of 2021.
Outlaw also said more of the department's officers will be outfitted with Tasers, which are in the budget for next year. But she didn't want to focus solely on one less-lethal method of force.
"We're talking a lot about the Taser, but I don't want all of this to put all of our hope and faith" in them, Outlaw said.
Krasner also urged calm while alluding to the prior looting and violence the city saw in the nights after Wallace's death. He also reminded Philly that Wallace's family condemned the looting that followed his death.
"If you believe the life of Walter Wallace matters, then it matters that his family is asking you to honor him, not to disgrace his memory by tearing up the city," Krasner said.