Family of Walter Wallace Jr. is suing the two Philly police officers who killed him

Protesters march from the scene of Walter Wallace Jr.’s killing to Malcolm X Park. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Protesters march from the scene of Walter Wallace Jr.’s killing to Malcolm X Park. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

The family of Walter Wallace Jr. has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the two police officers who shot and killed the 27-year-old outside of his West Philadelphia home in October.

The 17-page suit, filed Wednesday in Common Pleas Court, accuses police officers Sean Matarazzo and Thomas Munz of using unreasonable and unauthorized force when they shot Wallace, who was holding a kitchen knife, approximately 10 times in broad daylight in front of his wife and parents, as well as his sister and brother. Wallace’s family has said he was experiencing a mental health crisis, and that they had called for an ambulance when the police officers arrived.

“He obviously did not pose a risk of harm to his mother, who was actually trying to position herself between Wallace and the Defendant Officers, knowing they posed more of a risk to her and her son than Wallace did,” wrote Shaka Johnson, the family’s attorney.

A separate lawsuit will be filed against the city in federal court, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer. It will allege that inadequate police training and the city’s failure to equip Matarazzo and Munz with Tasers led to Wallace’s death, Johnson told the newspaper.

Johnson did not immediately return a request for comment on Thursday.

“The Law Department has not seen the litigation and so we are unable to comment,” said city spokesperson Mike Dunn.

The wrongful death suit comes roughly five months after Wallace’s killing sparked days of protests against police brutality.

After the shooting, Matarazzo and Munz were taken off active duty pending the findings of a joint investigation by the Officer Involved Shooting Investigation Unit of the Philadelphia Police Department and the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office.

“The investigation is active and open,” said DAO spokesperson Jane Roh.

A police spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

On Oct. 26, police responded to the 6100 block of Locust Street after members of Wallace’s family called 911. On the way to the house, the officers were told Wallace was involved in an “ongoing domestic dispute” and knew that he had a knife in his possession, the complaint says.

At the time, Wallace was experiencing “significant mental health problems” related to various underlying and diagnosed mental health conditions, including bipolar disorder, and he had not taken his medication that day, according to the suit.

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.

“No! No! No! He’s mental!” a woman is heard screaming.

After changing directions at several points, Wallace can be seen walking toward one officer and then another. His mother and an unidentified bystander tries to get control of him, but neither are successful.

“At no time did Wallace raise his knife, or make any threatening moves or actions that could be perceived as a threat to Defendant Officers, or any other individual on the scene. In fact, Wallace’s actions clearly show that of a mentally sick individual as he appears walking around in a mentally disturbed manner,” wrote Johnson.

At 3:48 p.m., less than a minute after arriving on scene, one of the officers directed his partner to “shoot him,” according to the suit.

Less than six seconds later, Matarazzo and Munz opened fire.

Wallace was “incapacitated” after the first gunshot, the complaint said. However, the officers continued to fire at him “in a manner that was excessive, unnecessary and constituted an assault and battery.”

The lawsuit seeks compensatory and punitive damages, but does not cite a specific monetary figure. It alleges wrongful death, assault and battery, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

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