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Walter Wallace Jr., 27, a 'family man' with many mental health crises and encounters with police

By Ellie Rushing, The Philadelphia Inquirer on

Published in News & Features

PHILADELPHIA — A few steps from chalk lines that had circled shell casings and other evidence from a Monday afternoon police shooting in West Philadelphia, family, friends, and neighbors recalled 27-year-old Walter Wallace Jr.:

A father of eight who struggled with mental illness. A quiet neighbor. An Uber Eats driver and aspiring rapper.

A cousin opened the doors of her red Toyota Camry, plugged her phone into its speakers, and played one of Wallace's songs, "Black Hearted," then doubled over in the middle of the 6100 block of Locust Street and wept.

Neighbors and family members sat on their steps and leaned over porch railings, swaying back and forth, their eyes closed, as the song's lyrics described police violence and the Black Lives Matter movement.

The words played out in real life the day before, when two police officers responded to a call for help at the Wallace rowhouse and then ended up firing 14 bullets at a distraught young man who they said approached them armed with a knife.

"He was a family man," said Tasha White, who lives a few doors down. "He walked with his kids and he walked with his mom."

 

"He was a quiet kid," White said. "Whatever happened yesterday, that was different. That wasn't normal."

Adults with untreated severe mental illness account for one in every four fatal police shootings, according to experts. Wallace fits the pattern. He was also in and out of court throughout his young adulthood, with judges regularly ordering he receive mental health treatment as he faced charges of trespassing, resisting arrest, robbery and simple assault.

Shaka Johnson, a criminal defense lawyer now representing the family, said Wallace was prescribed lithium, which is primarily used to treat bipolar disorder and major depressive disorder.

He said Wallace's family called 911 Monday afternoon for an ambulance to help a young man in crisis. Police arrived first, he said, and Wallace's wife told officers that her husband was bipolar. It was reportedly the family's third call for help that day.

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