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October 27, 2020

Walter Wallace shooting raises questions, Philly police commissioner says, promising full investigation

Police presence ramping up in anticipation of further civil unrest

Investigations Police Shootings
Outlaw Philly Wallace Shooting City of Philadelphia/Flickr

Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw says the city will ramp up officer presence in the wake of civil unrest following the police shooting on Monday. Walter Wallace Jr, 27, was fatally shot by two police officers after he defied orders to drop a knife.

Philadelphia officials publicly addressed the police shooting of 27-year-old Walter Wallace Jr. for the first time Tuesday, but they offered scant new details about the investigation into the fatal incident.

The Monday afternoon shooting occurred after officers responded to a call for a man with a knife on the 6100 block of Locust Street in West Philly. 

Wallace, a Black man, was seen on video approaching the officers with a knife in hand and their guns drawn. When Wallace defied police orders to drop his weapon, the officers discharged at least 14 rounds, causing fatal injuries.

Wallace was experiencing a mental health crisis, family members said in the wake of the shooting, which sparked a wave of civil unrest and looting overnight.

Please note the following video contains graphic images and audio.

"There are many questions that demand answers," Outlaw said. "Residents have my assurance that those questions will be fully addressed by the investigation. While at the scene last night, the anger and sadness of the community was not lost upon me. Everyone involved, including the officers, will forever be impacted by this tragedy."

The police department's Officer-Involved Shooting investigation unit, along with the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office, will continue to carry out a detailed examination of the events that led up to and culminated in the use of deadly force against Wallace.

Officials would not get into details about the distance between Wallace and police officers at the time of the shooting, and how that aligns with existing use-of-force policies. The police department has not yet interviewed the officers involved in the shooting. Witness interviews remain ongoing. 

Some videos of the shooting appeared to show Wallace's mother pleading with officers not to shoot him in the moments before his death. Outlaw declined to discuss whether officers are asked to take such interactions into consideration. 

"We're all human beings," Outlaw said. "When we train, we're talking about totality of the circumstance. That could very well be present. It could be family members or others pleading. I don't want to Monday morning quarterback because it ultimately all rests upon what the officers experienced at the time and when they made the decision to shoot." 

Outlaw could not confirm Tuesday afternoon whether the initial 911 call received by authorities was in reference to a mental health disturbance. 

She also would not comment on any previous interactions police may have had with Wallace, what they knew about him, what was communicated over police radio during the incident, and whether the officers involved in the shooting ever had prior contact with the victim.

Due to departmental protocols, Outlaw said she could not yet announce whether and when the department may identify the officers involved in the shooting or release body-worn camera footage from the incident. 

Any imminent release of the officers' names will be contingent on a threat assessment to ensure that they are not put at risk of harm or that the integrity of the investigation is compromised.

District Attorney Larry Krasner said Tuesday afternoon that his Special Investigations Unit has received some body camera footage and anticipates reviewing additional police video. He added that he hopes the footage will be released to the public for the sake of transparency. 

"I would just ask everyone for a little bit patience as we get to the bottom of what happened, and what it means for the law," Krasner said. 

The district attorney discussed his office's past review of other officer-involved shootings. Some have led to charges, at times after going through a grand jury process, and others that have not met the threshold for criminal charges. 

"This office has made clear that we believe in fairness and we believe in even-handed justice," Krasner said. "We are not out to cover for anybody and we are not out to get anybody. What that of course means, is that we need to get all of the information, consider it carefully, find the facts, and consider the law — and go wherever they lead us, regardless of who it makes happy, who it makes sad, or what the politics are around that." 

Outlaw expressed hope that a clear timeline for communicating additional information will be available in the next two to three days.

"It is not our intent by any means to be tight-lipped or close-mouthed about what we do know and when, but we have to be very prudent in ensuring that we respect our officers' due process," Outlaw said.

The police commissioner acknowledged that the officers involved in the shooting were not equipped with Tasers, which may otherwise have been an option for them to de-escalate the situation using non-lethal means. The department is now required to provide all officers with a Taser and a specific training module for using it — a process that is not yet up to date.

Outlaw indicated that she plans to participate in a community meeting Tuesday night and will hold additional meetings in the coming days.

Hundreds of demonstrators took to the streets Monday night in the wake of Wallace's death, damaging businesses and facing off with police who responded to the area with riot gear.

A total of 91 arrests were made in connection with the unrest — including three code violation notices, 11 assaults on police and 76 arrests for commercial burglary. Most of the unrest was centered on the 52nd Street corridor and in the area of 55th and Pine Streets, though businesses on at least eight different corridors were impacted.

Thirty police officers suffered injuries, mostly cuts and bruises caused by bricks, rocks and other debris thrown at them. One female police officer suffered a broken leg when she was struck by a pickup truck in the area of 52nd and Walnut streets. She remains hospitalized.

Outlaw said the vehicle "intentionally" hit the 56-year-old police sergeant. It was unclear whether any of the arrests made included the driver of the vehicle. Several investigations remain open and pending.

Eight police vehicles and one EMT truck were vandalized, Outlaw said.

The city anticipates additional unrest Tuesday night and has called for mutual aid from surrounding police departments. Officials have not ruled out the possibility of federal assistance, including the National Guard, which had already been in consideration for deployment for the Nov. 3 election.

"We will increase our officer presence around the city at key locations," Outlaw said. "Roving and static officer details that are part of the looting response will also be deployed to commercial districts in other key locations throughout the city."