Confessions of a Killer Cop, John Tennis Breaks his Silence After Being Fired

[Raheem F. Hosseini, Sacramento News & Review. Image by AUSTIN STEELE, former Sacramento police Officer John Tennis stands near the scene where he and his partner fatally shot Joseph Mann in July 2016]

In 2011, the same year that Mann's mother died, Tennis was stripped of his gun when an El Dorado County judge hit him with a temporary restraining order. Tennis' ex-wife had accused him of domestic violence and child abuse, charges Tennis denies. The judge later lifted the restraining order and ...

Dressed in a faded Superman t-shirt that flatters his muscular torso, John Tennis points out the spot where he and his partner shot and killed Joseph Mann on a steamy summer morning last year.

It’s a crisp day in December along a resilient commercial stretch of North Sacramento, where unassuming bars and barbershops reside under washed-out signs, but Tennis tugs at his collar like a man who’s feeling the heat.

For more than a quarter of a century, Tennis patrolled this neighborhood for the Sacramento Police Department. In October, his career ended ignominiously. The 56-year-old former patrolman revealed last month to SN&R that he was fired following an internal affairs investigation into the fatal shooting of Mann, who was armed with a knife, rumored to have a gun and reported to be acting strangely in front of a nearby apartment complex.

The July 11, 2016, shooting—and the ensuing release of police video—plunged Tennis and partner Randy Lozoya into the scalding national debate about deadly law enforcement encounters caught on tape.

For perhaps the first time since Ferguson exploded more than three years ago, one of those officers is crossing the thin blue line to tell his side of the story.

After their colleagues spent long minutes avoiding a confrontation with the agitated Mann, Tennis and Lozoya swooped in with lethal decisiveness. In a span of 44 seconds, they attempted to strike Mann with their patrol vehicle twice, hoofed across the boulevard and put 14 bullets into the mentally troubled 50-year-old.

Despite his taste in t-shirts, Tennis dismisses the notion that he has a hero complex. He says he and his partner did what needed to be done.

“We don’t get trained to just follow someone at a safe distance and not act,” he says. “That’s the problem that went on for five minutes. And I didn’t get there and go, ’Oh, I’m gonna end this.’ I got there in absolute fear that something tragic was going to happen.”

Something tragic did happen, say Mann’s siblings.

“You just jump out of your car and unload on him—that’s unacceptable,” says brother Robert Mann. “That’s not protecting and serving our community.”

The forces that put John Tennis and Joseph Mann in each other’s path began a long time ago. Close in age, both men grew up in Sacramento around the same time. They both spun contented childhoods into careers in criminal justice. Both led lives interrupted by substance abuse and personal bedevilments. Both sought help from the system.

One of them got it. The other was Joseph Mann.

Seated at a conference table inside SN&R, a couple blocks from where he and Mann met, Tennis rubs his dry palms together and takes a drag of recirculated air. He doesn’t know what he’s doing here, he says. A cop talking to the press about a fatal shooting, one that’s still being litigated, his lawyer will probably have his head. But he feels the need to unburden himself.

“I’m not this beast that I’m made out to be,” Tennis says.

Joseph Mann’s loved ones say the same thing about Joe...

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