Walter White jr.'s family

Family members stand with Attorney Shaka Johnson, right, and Councilmember Jamie Gautier, center, at a press conference regarding the court settlement in the wrongful death of Walter Wallace Jr. — Ericka Conant/WHYY

A year after the fatal police shooting of Walter Wallace Jr., the city has settled a wrongful death lawsuit and announced plans to better equip its officers to handle situation involving people dealing with mental health issues.

The city announced a wrongful death settlement filed by the Wallace family. The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that the family was awarded $2.5 million from the city.

Wallace, a mentally distressed Black man, was killed outside his West Philadelphia home on Oct. 26, 2020, by police officers responding to a 911 call and hearing warnings from Wallace’s relatives that he was mentally unstable. Video from the incident showed Wallace holding a knife when the officers arrived and asked him repeatedly to drop the weapon. When he did not, and moved toward one officer, officers shot several rounds and killed him.

Wallace’s death came just month after the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, which sparked protests in Philadelphia and cities across the country and world over excessive police force and racial injustice. The protests and push for reform over both deaths pushed city officials to take a well needed look internally at its law enforcement policies

Both the settlement and the new focus on mental health 911 calls are important to preventing such a tragedy from reoccurring.

While no settlement can make up for the tragic loss of life it is important in holding the city and police accountable.

“This was a substantial monetary settlement that reflected the tragedy that took place, the City’s role and policy failures that contributed to his death, while also taking into account the factual complexities which this tragedy presented on all sides,” family attorney Shaka Johnson said.

The city has responded to a list of demands that Walter Wallace Jr.’s family presented a year ago. The family said the officers’ lack of nonlethal options during the confrontation led to Wallace’s death. Those demands are now included in a legally binding agreement, signed by city lawyers, to ensure that the city’s promises to the Wallace family are kept.

Mayor Jim Kenney said the city is making a concerted effort to provide its officers with mental health training, including more crisis response services, and increasing partnership between behavioral health and police.

Kenney said the city had instituted a pilot of a co-responder program for 911 calls to have people equipped to handle complex mental-health related situations to help de-escalate problems.

The city also said it would equip its patrol officers with Tasers. The two officers who shot Wallace did not have Tasers.

The city’s efforts to change the way police officers respond to 911 calls regarding behavioral health emergencies are significant steps toward reform and should hopefully result in fewer tragic outcomes.

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