Wallace, a 27-year-old Black man, was shot and killed by police while holding a knife on October 26. His family had said he had bipolar disorder and was experiencing a mental health crisis at the time. The officers were not equipped with less-lethal options, like Tasers, to use in such situations.
The lawsuit, filed Wednesday, alleges officers Sean Matarazzo and Thomas Munz used unreasonable force when they shot Wallace outside of his family’s home, less than a minute after arriving on the scene.
It alleges wrongful death, assault and battery, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
CNN has been unable to reach Matarazzo or Munz for a response to the lawsuit. The Philadelphia Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5 told CNN it had not seen the lawsuit and declined to comment.
The police union defended the officers immediately after the shooting, saying they followed departmental procedure: “These officers followed their training and police department policy. It’s completely inappropriate that these officers continue to be vilified for doing their job,” the statement said.
According to his family, Wallace was having a mental breakdown when he was shot by police after they responded to a 911 call about a man holding a knife.
The suit says that police had responded to the area at least twice that same day with Wallace and had “acknowledged that he was involved in a family dispute.” Police found Wallace in “active mental distress, and made the choice to leave the area given his obvious mental health symptoms,” and chose to “allow the family to continue to attempt to assist him in resolving his mental health crisis,” it says.
Matarazzo and Munz responded to the area later that day, the suit says. They found Wallace holding a kitchen knife, and the suit says family members repeatedly yelled to the officers that Wallace was “mental.”
The lawsuit also claims that Wallace presented no threat to the officers when they decided to open fire, since a car was between them. Police body camera video shows he moved into the open before the shots were fired.
“Given that Wallace was holding a kitchen knife, and made no threatening motions or actions towards anyone, no use of deadly force was reasonable or authorized under the law, and the decision to shoot Wallace and kill him was unauthorized and an excessive use of force,” the lawsuit alleges.
Shaka Johnson, attorney for the Wallace family, said the city of Philadelphia is not a part of this suit. “The city will be named in a subsequent federal lawsuit. Because of antiquated state court procedural rules, the city has immunity from a lawsuit filed in state court,” Johnson said.
The shooting led to demonstrations in Philadelphia last year after a flood of attention to officers using violence against Black people. There were also incidents of looting, property destruction and attacks on police officers. At the time, the police department announced it would have 911 operators and dispatchers take more crisis intervention team (CIT) training.
Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw said in November that the training class would provide 911 center workers with a “better ability to identify crisis related calls so that these calls are more efficiently directed to CIT-trained officers in the field.” She said she expected the training to be complete by this fall.
The suit is asking for compensation in excess of $50,000.