Walter Wallace Jr.
Two police officers fatally shot Walter Wallace Jr., a 27-year-old Black man, in front of his family in October, sparking days of protest against police brutality.
Following the deadly incident in Cobbs Creek, the Philadelphia Police Department removed officers Sean Matarazzo and Thomas Munz from active duty pending the findings of a joint investigation by the department’s Officer Involved Shooting Investigation Unit and the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office.
That investigation is ongoing, and neither Matarazzo nor Munz are facing criminal charges at this time, though Wallace’s family recently filed a wrongful death suit against the officers in Common Pleas Court.
The two officers shot Wallace shortly after members of his family called 911. On the way to the house, the officers were told Wallace was involved in an “ongoing domestic dispute,” according to the civil complaint. The pair also knew that Wallace had a knife in his possession.
At the time, Wallace was experiencing a mental health crisis related to various underlying and diagnosed conditions, including bipolar disorder, and he had not taken his medication that day, according to court documents.
Body-worn camera footage from the incident shows Wallace emerging from his family’s home with a knife in his hand and walking slowly toward the officers as his family members tried to alert the officers about his mental state.
After changing directions at several points, Wallace can be seen walking toward one officer and then another. His mother and an unidentified bystander try to get control of him, but neither is successful.
Less than a minute after arriving on scene, one of the officers can be heard directing his partner to “shoot him.”
Less than six seconds later, Matarazzo and Munz opened fire.
The bodycam footage shows that Wallace was not rushing the officers at the time, and did not have his knife raised.
Advocates point to Wallace’s killing to demonstrate the need for major reforms in the way police respond to mental health crises, although it was not the first time city officers had shot someone suffering from mental distress. WHYY’s Billy Penn recently reported the city rolled out a new 911 script for dispatchers one month after Wallace’s death. Mayor Jim Kenney is calling for an additional $13 million for the city’s mobile crisis response centers.
Most recently, five police officers fatally shot James Alexander, a 24-year-old Black man, during a traffic stop on April 7 in the Logan section of the city.
The Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office is investigating the police killing, which was captured by police body-worn cameras and sent one of the responding officers to the hospital after he was shot in the foot. But it’s unclear if the office intends to file any criminal charges.
A DAO spokesperson said Wednesday there is no timeline for the investigation.
According to the police account, Officers Christopher Burton and Charles McCairns pulled over the Kia sedan James was a passenger in around 6:45 p.m. after the vehicle did not stop at a stop sign on the 1500 block of Somerville Avenue.
Police said the driver has since admitted to committing the traffic violation, though a department spokesperson could not provide the location of the infraction, and there are no stop signs on the stretch of Somerville Avenue where the car was pulled over.
Police originally said they found outstanding warrants for the driver and Alexander, prompting them to call for back-up.
Another man and a woman were also traveling in the car at the time of the stop, according to police.
Officers Michael Braun, David Tamamoto, Matthew Ponente, and his partner soon arrived on the scene. Police said all five officers then approached the car to remove the driver and Alexander from the passenger side.
The driver allegedly complied. Alexander, from inside the car, allegedly fired at the officers shortly after they opened his door and asked if he had a gun on him. Police say Alexander fired at least two more shots after leaving the sedan.
Five of the six officers, positioned on either side of the car, then opened fire on Alexander. He was pronounced dead at Albert Einstein Medical Center.
Afterward, the department said the “bail jumping” warrant from Wisconsin was not tied to Alexander, but a similarly named individual with a similar date of birth and a different FBI number.
Authorities claim they shared bodycam footage from the deadly incident with Alexander’s parents, but have not publicly released it. Ishea Cedeno, Alexander’s aunt, has disputed the police department’s account and said the officer racially profiled her nephew and the other passengers.
It’s unclear how one of the officers, who was also treated at Einstein, was shot in the foot.