SACRAMENTO, Calif. – The Sacramento Police Department took steps Monday to fire an officer who fatally shot an armed, mentally ill black man last July in North Sacramento. The investigation into the controversial shooting took nearly a year, according to the Sacramento Bee.
The department has finished preliminary paperwork for the termination of Officer John Tennis, according to four sources familiar with the action, but not authorized to speak publicly.
However, it is unclear if the move is directly tied to the shooting. Tennis, a 26-year member of the department, fired eight of the 18 rounds aimed at Joseph Mann, 50.
Mann was armed with a knife that had a 3.5-inch blade. Furthermore, he acted erratically when police first encountered him in a residential neighborhood near Del Paso Boulevard, according to the report.
Officer Involved Shooting
On the morning of July 11, 2016 police received two 911 calls about a man behaving strangely in front of an apartment building. A female caller said Mann had a knife. Yet a male caller reported seeing a gun. Interviewed later by The Bee, the caller said he was uncertain if he had seen a gun.
The first officers to respond followed Mann in their patrol car from a distance while attempting to speak with him over their loud speaker. Mann refused to comply with their orders to stop and put down his knife. The suspect continued through the neighborhood and onto the commercial corridor of Del Paso Boulevard.
Later, the coroner determined Mann had methamphetamine and amphetamine in his system.
More officers arrived and continued to monitor Mann, but he continued down the four-lane road, moving away from officers.
Tennis and Officer Randy Lozoya responded to the scene minutes later. The duo attempted to hit Mann two times with their car when they first encountered him, based on dashcam footage released by the city. “I’m going to hit him,” Tennis said.
“OK. Go for it. Go for it,” responded Lozoya.
The officers missed Mann with their vehicle, backed up, turned and then drove toward him again, based on the video. They then pursued him on foot. Within a minute of arriving at the scene, the two officers were involved in a shooting with Mann.
The paper reported that neither the Sacramento Police Department nor City Attorney James Sanchez would comment on what they described as a personnel matter.
Actually, state law prohibits it at this point in the process.
Officer Lozoya Retired
Lozoya retired on April 1, according to department spokesman Sgt. Bryce Heinlein. It is unknown if Lozoya faced discipline over the shooting since police personnel and disciplinary records are confidential under state law.
Officers Cleared in Shooting by District Attorney
Both Officers Tennis and Lozoya were cleared of criminal wrongdoing in January by a Sacramento County District Attorney’s investigation.
According to the paper, the move to fire Tennis may have resulted from the department’s internal affairs investigation into the Mann shooting, sources said. Sacramento Police Department spokesman, Sgt. Matt McPhail, said that investigation is ongoing.
Internal affairs is investigating if Tennis and Lozoya violated department policies and procedures or training standards. A separate, public report by the city’s Office of Public Safety Accountability that critiques the internal affairs findings is expected in the coming weeks.
Agency Issues ‘Letter of Intent’ to Terminate
Reportedly, the chief of police and city manager have approved Tennis’ termination. According to internal policies, letters of intent to terminate police officers must be cleared by both prior to being sent, sources said.
Per California law, the statute of limitations to punish an officer for misconduct is one year from the time of discovery. Therefore, a letter of intent must be issued within that timeframe, minus certain exceptions outlined by law. The Mann shooting took place on July 11, 2016.
Neither Tennis’ lawyer, nor the police officers’ union responded to requests for comment from the Sacramento Bee.
Tennis Placed on Administrative Leave
Shortly after the shooting, Tennis was taken off patrol and moved to modified duty. He was switched to paid administrative leave on May 25 pending the outcome of the investigation, the department said this month. Tennis will remain on paid leave until a final termination letter is issued and by law will retain his pension if terminated.
Police Officer’s Procedural Bill of Rights
The Police Officer’s Procedural Bill of Rights (POBR) in the State of California is covered in Government Code 3300-3311. Rules of engagement during the investigation as well due process rights afforded to the officer are carefully followed by agencies hoping to avoid running afoul of the law, and having decisions overturned on appeal to Superior Court.
Shelley Banks, the city’s labor relations manager, said the first step in firing city civil servants, including an officer, is to give the employee a letter of intent after an investigation finds termination is warranted. The city holds a termination hearing within five days. Banks said in complicated cases, that hearing is often delayed to allow the hearing officer time to research the case.
The hearing officer’s recommendation is not binding, and the department can move forward with termination regardless. The terminated officer has the right to appeal to an arbitrator, but the final decision is ultimately made by the city’s Civil Service Board.
In all, the process can take more than a year to complete, Banks said. Particularly one with the nuances of this incident.
However, once the officer is terminated, he or she has the right to appeal the decision to Superior Court. But that process can oftentimes take several years. Yet if Superior Court overrules the termination, the officer will be awarded back pay.
In 2013, Tennis approached the department to ask for help with an alcohol problem, according to a letter he wrote to a superior contained in court records. Tennis detailed his excessive drinking after being served a restraining order by his ex-wife.
The department conducted an internal affairs investigation and waived a 40-hour suspension in favor of allowing Tennis to get in patient treatment at Mountain Vista Farm in Glen Ellen. During the process he participated in Alcoholics Anonymous meetings when he returned to duty, according to documentation contained in court records. Tennis participated in those meetings until at least April 2015, according to court records.
The shooting of Mann quickly became a flashpoint for local activism around police conduct and how minority communities are policed. Four months later, the Sacramento City Council passed a series of police requirements, including the release of video in officer-involved shootings and some other incidents within 30 days of an encounter, and the creation of a more powerful civilian oversight commission currently in the process of forming.
The council also voted to put body cameras on all patrol officers. Officers began wearing those cameras earlier this year, and all patrol members are expected to have them by fall. But officers still retain some discretion about when to turn the cameras on and off.
Mann Family Sues Sacramento Police Department
“I applaud the department and the city of Sacramento for taking the proper action,” said Robert Mann, Joseph Mann’s brother. The Mann family has expressed outrage over the shooting and filed two lawsuits. The city has settled one suit filed by Mann’s father for $719,500.
Robert Mann and his four siblings filed a new lawsuit in June against the city. Mann said he plans to continue with that suit to push for further police reforms, including better interventions with those experiencing mental illness. Joseph Mann had been treated in two local mental health facilities and struggled with substance abuse.
“We’re pursuing it so that in the future other family members don’t have to go through this horrific ordeal,” said Robert Mann. “We can be a fair city. We can be a city where all ethnicities and diversity groups can live and play and work together.”
Mann said Monday’s action made him feel hopeful by “showing that (Sacramento Police Department) want to be transparent, showing that they want to have some accountability. It’s just a very good thing for Sacramento.”
(Image screenshots from dashcam video)