SAN FRANCISCO — A dashboard camera recording of two California police officers discussing hitting a suspect armed with a knife with their police car before appearing to try to run him down does not make it more likely that they will face criminal charges in the fatal shooting of the man that ended the encounter, legal experts said Tuesday.

The officers may have reasonably feared for their lives or public safety, justifying any decision to use their vehicle to hit the man, said Philip Stinson, an associate professor in the criminal justice program at Bowling Green State University in Ohio. “If you and I mowed somebody over, prosecutors would start with the assumption it was murder or manslaughter and work back from there,” he said. “With a police officer, the assumption they start with is, ‘Was this a justified use of deadly force?”‘

Prosecutors will have to evaluate the use of the police car and subsequent shooting to determine whether force was justified in each case, he said.

Sacramento police have said Joseph Mann was waving a knife in the air and doing karate moves in the street just before officers responded. On police 911 recordings, callers said Mann also had a gun in his waistband and appeared to be mentally ill. The officers can be heard on the recording saying, “I’m gonna hit him” and “OK, go for it” before appearing to drive their cruiser twice at Mann, who managed to scramble out of its way both times. The officers then stopped the cruiser, got out and pursued Mann on foot, and shot him 14 times. Police found a knife but no gun after Mann was killed.

An attorney for Mann’s family, John Burris, said the officers who shot Mann, John Tennis and Randy Lozoya, acted like “big game hunters closing in on an animal.” Mann’s family wants prosecutors to charge the officers with murder.


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