Lawyers say cop who shot mentally impaired Sacramento man was unfit for duty

Civil rights attorney John Burris (holding papers) addresses the media.


Attorneys for a mentally troubled man who was gunned down by police last month say the officer who shot him was plagued by his own issues.

One of the veteran police officers who fatally shot Joseph Mann in north Sacramento last month had his gun taken away by a judge during a 2011 divorce proceeding in El Dorado County, according to an amended federal complaint filed by the dead man’s family.

Civil rights attorney John Burris revealed the new information during an August 11 press conference outside the federal courthouse in Sacramento, flanked by the family members of Joseph Mann, the 50-year-old Sacramento resident who was shot at least 16 times during a July 11 encounter with police on Del Paso Boulevard.

Despite the police department’s claims that Mann was armed with a knife and rushed officers before they fired, a cellphone video recorded by a witness seems to show Mann standing in place on the sidewalk near a saloon when he is felled by a rapid barrage of gunshots.

“They brutally murdered my brother and they need to be held accountable,” said Robert Mann, who told SN&R he also wanted criminal charges brought against the two officers.

Mann’s family and their attorneys claim the video shows Mann was unarmed at the time of his killing, but it’s difficult to make out from the shaky cellphone footage. On Thursday, Burris renewed his call for the police department to release whatever video footage it has of the fatal encounter.

“It’s outrageous conduct not to allow the family to see the surveillance videos that they have. They have a right to know,” Burris told reporters. “And then you can eliminate some of this discourse. This family is in great pain. And they’re in great pain because they don’t know.”

Burris said he didn’t know if the officers involved in the shooting were outfitted with body cameras. A pilot program last year equipped some officers with the cameras, but not all of them. But Burris and his co-counsels say they are interested in any and all footage, as patrol cars are equipped with dashboard video recorders and a stopped light-rail may have also captured some of the incident.

Burris said the police department’s intransigence to releasing any video footage is hurting its credibility.

“I’ve turned down cases after I’ve seen the video,” he said. “There’s no reason not to let the family see the video.”

A police spokesman previously told SN&R the departmen’ts policy prevented it from releasing video footage to the public, which includes the relatives of victims of police shootings.

But the main revelation from Thursday’s press conference was about one of the two officers who fired on Mann.

During a divorce proceeding in 2011, Sacramento police Officer John C. Tennis was facing allegations of domestic violence and child abuse, and had been served with a restraining order that prohibited him from possessing a firearm or ammunition, the amended federal complaint states.

Tennis only got his gun back after he and his department asked El Dorado Superior Court Judge Kenneth Melikian to grant Tennis an exemption so he could continue his employment as a Sacramento police officer, documents show.

“The Sacramento Police Department is unable to re-assign Officer Tennis to another position where a firearm is unnecessary,” a letter signed by then-Deputy Chief Sam Somers, who is currently the police chief, says in support of Tennis’ request.

Two years later, Tennis was in trouble again, this time with the department. According to a document provided by Burris’s law firm, the Sacramento Police Officers Association settled an internal affairs disciplinary case against Tennis with the city, which allowed him to avoid a one-week suspension by attending classes and reading books related to alcoholism. As part of the agreement, Tennis was required to “Research Alcoholism and the health effects of long term alcohol usage.”

Burris said Tennis shouldn’t have been allowed back on the force, certainly not with a gun, following the 2011 restraining order.

“There was a reason the judge [ordered] that he could not have a gun,” Burris said. “He couldn’t have a gun at home. And so, yet, he can’t have a gun at home, but he can have one on the street.

“That should not happen.”

Read next week’s SN&R for more on this story.

Our content is free, but not free to produce

If you value our local news, arts and entertainment coverage, become an SN&R supporter with a one-time or recurring donation. Help us keep our reporters at work, bringing you the stories that need to be told.


Stay Updated

For the latest local news, arts and entertainment, sign up for our newsletter.
We'll tell you the story behind the story.