Shooting of Stephon Clark

Stephon Clark

Stephon Clark (born Stephen Clark) was a graduate of Sacramento High School. With Salena Manni, Clark was the parent of two sons, aged 1 and 3. At the time of his death Clark was 22 years old.

Clark’s brother Stevante said that Clark went by the nickname Zoe, and that he liked dancing and making people smile. The Sacramento Bee reported that he also liked sneakers, football and video games. Clark’s brother told KOVR that he and Clark had come from “underprivileged, broken homes”, but that Clark was a devoted father who only cared about his children. His brother said that Clark had been arrested previously, but had changed his life, and was not a thief. Sacramento County court records showed that Clark had previous convictions for robbery and domestic violence. Clark had been released from county jail about a month before the shooting and had been staying with his grandparents on and off, according to his brother.

 

Shooting

The Sacramento Police Department stated that on Sunday, March 18 at 9:18 p.m., two officers were responding to a call that someone was breaking car windows. In a media release after the shooting, Police stated that they had been looking for a suspect hiding in a backyard. They said the suspect was a thin black man, 6 feet 1 inch (1.85 m) in height, wearing darkly colored pants and a black hooded sweatshirt. A sheriff’s helicopter spotted a man at 9:25 p.m. in a nearby backyard and told officers on the ground that he had shattered a window using a tool bar, run to the front of that house, and then looked in an adjacent car.

Officers on the ground entered the front yard of Clark’s grandmother’s home, and saw Clark next to the home. Vance Chandler, the Sacramento Police Department spokesman, said that Clark was the same man who had been breaking windows, and was tracked by police in helicopters. Chandler said that when Clark was confronted and ordered to stop and show his hands, Clark fled to the back of the property.

Police body camera footage from both officers who shot Clark recorded the incident, though the footage is dark and shaky. In the videos, officers spot Clark in his grandmother’s driveway and shout “Hey, show me your hands. Stop. Stop.” The video shows that the officers chased Clark into the backyard and an officer yells, “Show me your hands! Gun!” Approximately three seconds elapse and then the officer yells, “Show me your hands! Gun, gun, gun”, before shooting Clark.

According to the police, before being shot Clark turned and held an object that he “extended in front of him” while he moved towards the officers. The officers said they believed that Clark was pointing a gun at them. The police stated that the officers feared for their safety, and at 9:26 p.m., fired 20 rounds, hitting Clark multiple times.

After shooting Clark, officers waited five minutes before approaching and then handcuffing him. Clark was found to have a white iPhone, and was unarmed. Clark’s girlfriend later said the phone belonged to her.

After more officers arrived, one officer said “Hey, mute”, and audio recording from the body camera was turned off.

The Police Department stated that Clark was found with a “tool bar”. On the evening of March 19, one day after the shooting, Police clarified that Clark possessed a cell phone when he was shot, not a tool bar. Police added that Clark had used either a concrete block or an aluminum gutter railing to break a sliding glass door one house adjacent to where he was shot, and that they believed Clark had broken windows from at least three vehicles in the area.

 

Responses

The Sacramento Police Department began a use of force investigation and placed both officers who shot Clark on paid administrative leave. On March 27, California’s Attorney General Xavier Becerra said his office would provide independent oversight into the investigation, and scrutinize the police department’s use of force procedures.

The Mayor of Sacramento, Darrell Steinberg, initially said he would not second-guess decisions made by officers on the ground. After a backlash, he said the videos of Clark’s shooting made him feel “really sick” and that the shooting was “wrong”, but declined to comment whether the officers should be charged. House Minority leader Nancy Pelosi stated that Clark “should be alive today”. Reverend Al Sharpton stated that he was alarmed by the story, which he said had not received enough media attention.

Clark’s family expressed skepticism of the police version of events. Clark’s brother, Stevante Clark, said of police statements: “They said he had a gun. Then they said he had a crowbar. Then they said he had a toolbar … If you lie to me once, I know you’ll lie to me again.” Clark’s aunt Saquoia Durham said that police gave Clark no time to respond to their commands before shooting him. According to Benjamin Crump, an attorney working for the Clark family, the officers did not identify themselves as police when they encountered Clark.

Peter Moskos, assistant professor of Law and Police Science at John Jay College, said that the officers appeared to think they had been fired upon. University of South Carolina criminology professor Geoffrey Alpert stated that it would be hard for officers to justify their conclusion that Clark was armed. Alpert, Clark’s family, and protesters questioned officers’ decisions to mute their microphones. Police Chief Daniel Hahn said he was unable to explain the muting. Cedric Alexander, former police chief in Rochester, New York, and former president of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, said that the muting did not appear to violate any policy, but looks bad.

On Monday March 26, White House spokesman Raj Shah stated that he was unaware of any comments from president Trump regarding Clark, adding, “the president cares about any individual who would be harmed through no fault of their own”.