VIDEOS: Mental Illness, Armed with a Knife, Threatening Violence, Now What?

By Jim Glennon  |   Nov 18, 2020

In Philadelphia, PA on October 26, 2020, police received a call from a woman who advised she was the daughter to a mother and father who were both being abused by their son. She stated on the 911 recorded line that “they called the cops earlier and the cops is not doin’ nothing he’s over there hitting my mother and father. He got a case for being violent and everything, he got a whole record.”

The police arrived and immediately encountered Walter Wallace, a 27-year-old African American man coming out of the front door of the house with a knife in his hand.

The officers ordered Wallace to drop his knife over 30 times as they backed away, maneuvered around cars and moved across the street for approximately 40 seconds in an obvious effort to avoid using deadly force against the advancing man.

Undeterred while facing the two officers who were pointing guns at him, Wallace moved around the front of a parked car and bent over in what looked like a prelude to a charge, then stood back up as both officers, who were approximately 15 feet away, finally discharged their weapons dropping the man to the street.

[Direct link to the video above]

After the shots, the mother who was purportedly being abused was understandably upset at seeing her son shot and laying on the street dying. At one point she attacked the officers who were trying to control the crowd and summon medical assistance. One officer finally was able to get Wallace into his squad car and to the hospital where he was pronounced dead.

There was an immediate visceral reaction by many in the community. A press conference was called and protests, riots and looting followed. Over 30 officers were injured.

From Wikipedia: “According to family members and the family’s attorney, Wallace suffered from mental illness, including bipolar disorder, and was taking lithium. Between 2013 and 2020, Wallace pleaded guilty to several criminal charges, including robbery, simple assault, and resisting arrest, and was repeatedly ordered by judges to undergo psychiatric evaluation and treatment. At the time of the shooting, Wallace was awaiting trial after being charged with making terroristic threats.”

On the day of the shooting the police were actually called to the Wallace residence twice before.

In addition to suffering from mental issues Wallace was shown to be a violent man and had acted violently that day. He was armed with a knife and advancing on officers when he was shot. Again, the officers gave over 30 warnings and pleas for Wallace to drop his weapon prior to them discharging their firearms.

This is one of several police shootings of subjects armed with knives who purportedly have emotional/mental issues and are advancing on officers who ultimately fired their weapons in response to that threat.

Several questions have been raised concerning these events:

— Is deadly force in these situations reasonable?

— Does the known mental/emotional issues of the armed subject matter in the moment?

— Is a Taser the appropriate response to someone armed, advancing and threatening with a knife?

Many people outside of law enforcement and some within the LE community believe that the Taser is the most viable option and that the mental illness component must be considered in the moment.

But should it? And is the deployment of a Taser on a person advancing with a knife a viable option?

Attached to this article are two videos. The Philadelphia Wallace shooting and an incident that happened in Chicago where officers attempted to stop a man with a knife by using a Taser. After being Tased, the man stands up and repeatedly stabs a police officer in the chest with the knife.

These videos and this article are designed for discussion and education purposes.

Our point at Calibre Press is that every single force event has countless variables that make each one unique. There is no one right way, no 100% safe way, no only way to deal with people who are posing an immediate threat.

FOR DISCUSSION: How close would an officer have to be to effectively deploy a Taser-type device in order to guarantee incapacitation? How close would an officer have to be to even attempt a Taser deployment?

Let’s say, for the sake of argument we are looking at 15-20 feet when the device is deployed.

What percentage of times, in the real world, will the Taser work perfectly, incapacitating the subject enough for disarming to be possible?

Does weather, clothing, number of officers present matter?

If the Taser is not effective, how fast can the armed assailant cover that 15-20 feet and plunge a knife into the head, neck or chest of an officer?

And in reality, how much time do officers have to evaluate each of those options, decide and act?

Finally, after the force is used, how long will their assessments, decisions, and actions be analyzed, debated and discussed by the multitudes…almost all of whom have no experience, training or interest in being involved in such an event?

School for thought.

Want to share yours? E-mail your insights to: [email protected]

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Jim Glennon
Lt. Jim Glennon (ret.) is the owner and lead instructor for Calibre Press. He is a third-generation LEO, retired from the Lombard, Ill. PD after 29 years of service. Rising to the rank of lieutenant, he commanded both patrol and the Investigations Unit. In 1998, he was selected as the first Commander of Investigations for the newly formed DuPage County Major Crimes (Homicide) Task Force. He has a BA in Psychology, a Masters in Law Enforcement Justice Administration, is the author of the book Arresting Communication: Essential Interaction Skills for Law Enforcement.