Walter Wallace Jr shooting: police to release 911 tapes and body cameras

Miranda Bryant in New York
·5 min read
<span>Photograph: Andrew H Walker/Rex/Shutterstock</span>
Photograph: Andrew H Walker/Rex/Shutterstock

Curfew was lifted in Philadelphia on Thursday as police said they will soon release 911 tapes and officers’ body-camera footage and authorities pledged to “do a better job” at coordinating mental health resources amid widespread unrest following the fatal shooting of Walter Wallace Jr.

The 27-year-old Black man was killed on Monday after being shot multiple times by police when his family called for medical assistance while he was having a mental health crisis, prompting protests in Philadelphia, Washington DC, New York and Portland, Oregon.

Police said Wallace Jr, whom his family said had bipolar disorder and was known to the authorities, ignored orders to drop a knife.

Speaking on Wednesday night, the Philadelphia police commissioner, Danielle Outlaw, said: “This investigation has many moving parts and we are working hard to ensure that a fair and thorough investigation takes place.

“We plan on releasing … audio of 911 calls and bodycam footage of the discharging officers in the near future.” First, she said, police will meet with Wallace Jr’s family.

Although previous police shootings of Black men in Philadelphia have sparked protests, the department has never before released police footage of a shooting by an officer, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported, later adding that the family of Wallace were due to see the footage later on Thursday.

She admitted her department lacked a mental health unit or consistent way to coordinate police calls with medical specialists.

“We don’t have a behavioural health unit, which is sorely needed,” said Outlaw, when asked about reports that police had already been called to the home twice on Monday before the shooting. “There’s clearly a disconnect on our end in terms of knowing what’s out there.”

But she condemned “widespread lawlessness” after peaceful protests were followed by incidents of burglary and looting in the city, which she said had “absolutely nothing to do with protest”.

People gather in protest in response to the police shooting of Walter Wallace Jr on 27 October.
People gather in protest in response to the police shooting of Walter Wallace Jr on 27 October. Photograph: Jessica Griffin/AP

As of Wednesday night she said there had been 23 injured officers, 297 reported incidents of looting and 81 arrests made on Tuesday.

Philadelphia’s mayor, Jim Kenney, said the city would improve coordination with mental health services. “We have limited resources and we have a large number of people with problems,” Kenney said. “We need to do a better job.”

He said troops from the Pennsylvania national guard would start arriving in the city, which on Wednesday night was put under curfew, on Friday to “safeguard property and prevent looting” and help police.

Meanwhile, ABC reported on Thursday that an investigation was under way in the city after police found a van containing explosives. The Guardian has requested details and comment from Philadelphia police.

With less than a week to go until the presidential election, Donald Trump expressed outrage over protests in Philadelphia on Wednesday while campaigning in Arizona and attempted to use it to his political advantage. “I can tell you, Biden and Harris stand with the rioters and the vandals,” he said. “I stand with the heroes of law.”

In a separate exchange with reporters he pointed out that the unrest had taken place in a “Democrat-run city”.

Biden earlier in the week reiterated points he has made on the campaign trail that violence “is not protest” and that there is no excuse for any looting or rioting. Biden and his vice-presidential nominee, Kamala Harris, on Tuesday issued a joint statement saying: “Our hearts are broken for the family of Walter Wallace, and for all those suffering the emotional weight of learning about another Black life in America lost.”

Protesters turned out for a second night in response to the shooting of Walter Wallace Jr on Tuesday night.
Protesters turned out for a second night in response to the shooting of Walter Wallace Jr on Tuesday night. Photograph: RMV/REX/Shutterstock

Meanwhile, the Philadelphia district attorney, Larry Krasner, issued a warning to Donald Trump, in a statement saying: “Keep your Proud Boys, goon squads, and uncertified ‘poll watchers’ out of our city, Mr. President. Break the law here, and I’ve got something for you.”

Wallace Jr, who had nine children, worked as an Uber Eats driver and was an aspiring rapper, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported. His wife, Dominique Wallace, gave birth this week, following Wallace’s death.

His family have spoken out about how police handled their son’s crisis on Monday during which they said they visited them three times. One of the times, his mother Catherine said, “they stood there and laughed at us”.

His father, Walter Wallace Sr, said the incident “could have been dealt with in a different way”.

He has also called for peace, and urged people to pray for his family. “All this violence and looting. I don’t want to leave a bad scar on my son and my family with this looting and chaos stuff,” Wallace Sr told CNN.

The Wallace family’s attorney, Shaka Johnson, said: “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?” He said Wallace Jr’s brother had called 911 to request medical assistance and an ambulance.

Outlaw has said that the officers involved in the shooting were taken off street duty while the investigation is under way. She declined to name or give any other information about the officers, saying it would be withheld until police determine it will not pose a threat to their safety.

She said neither officer had a Taser.