City officials recently confirmed that they reached an agreement with the family of Walter Wallace, Jr. in the amount of $2.5 million to settle claims over his death. The amount is the highest amount paid in the history of the city over an officer-involved shooting of an armed suspect.
27-year-old Wallace, a father of nine with a history of mental illness and a significant arrest record, died last year after being shot by two Philadelphia police officers while brandishing a knife. Police had been called to the Wallace household twice prior on the same day. On the third call, two Philadelphia police officers – neither of which had been issued Tasers by the department – responded and found Wallace standing outside the home armed with a knife. Brushing off his mother’s pleas for him to put the knife down and also ignoring the 23 orders given at gunpoint by the two officers to drop his weapon, Wallace can be seen on witness video walking around a parked car and moving toward the two officers who then opened fire. 14 rounds were fired and Wallace died at the scene.
The shooting sparked widespread protest and unrest throughout the city at a time when relations between police and the Black community were already under extreme stress. Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney released a statement on news of the settlement that he hoped it “brings some measure of closure for the family.” The city has also agreed to equip its entire police force with Tasers, as one of the cornerstones of the Wallace case is that non-lethal methods of dealing with Wallace’s armed advance on the responding officers should have been available and utilized.
City officials have also expressed concern over the police department’s predominant role in dealing with citizen mental health. Councilmember Jamie Gauthier represents the area where Wallace was killed and wants to see more attention paid to ensuring that those with mental health instabilities are not always met with a response from law enforcement. “If there were equity and justice in our system,” she said, “we would not have police responding to mental health calls. The reality is that we need loving, supporting systems in this city.”