Calif. DA won’t file charges against officers who killed unarmed Black man

Stephon Clark. Screen capture by ABC News via YouTube video

The police officers who allegedly shot and killed an unarmed Stephon Clark in his grandmother’s backyard will not be charged by the Sacramento County District Attorney’s office. District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert said the officers were justified in using lethal force, The Guardian reports.

“When we look at all of these facts and circumstances, we ask ourselves, was a crime committed?” she said Saturday. “The answer to that question is no.”

But her announcement has spurred additional unrest in a community where race relations are already strained, CNN reports. Last year city officials and community leaders called for peace as protests erupted and are doing so now as the protests unfolded late Saturday. People gathered outside police headquarters in Sacramento, and a small group of 10 activists camped overnight and shut down Sacramento’s largest shopping center by holding a “teach-in” to talk to shoppers about racial injustice.

Standing outside a family home in a Sacramento neighborhood, Clark’s mother SeQuette Clark told reporters she is outraged that the charges were dropped.

“They executed my son,” she said. “They executed him in my mom’s backyard and it’s not right.”

Schubert said Clark took what appeared to be a shooting stance and officers fired after seeing a flash of light which one officer thought was the flash of a gun being fired. That “gun” turned out to be a cellphone, which officers found under the young man’s body.

There is conflicting information about the number of times Clark was shot, according to the Sacramento County Coroner. That report said he was shot seven times, including three times in the back, but a forensic pathologist, retained by Clark’s family said in an earlier report concluded he was shot eight times, with six wounds occurring in the back.

The shooting occurred on March 18, 2018.

Schubert painted Clark, 22, as a troubled man worried about doing time for assaulting the mother of his children. She also said there were drugs in his system on the night of his death and he had Googled information on his smartphone about how a person can take their own life.

While she didn’t characterize Clark’s shooting as “suicide by cop,” Schubert said she decided to make the information public because it’s something attorneys would have brought out in court to establish his frame of mind. He had also researched penalties for domestic violence. Clark also used the phone to text the mother of his children. But she responded negatively, Schubert said. He called a number of times after an undisclosed instance on March 16, Schubert said.

“There were many things weighing heavily on his mind,” she added.

But Salena Manni, the mother of Clark’s two sons said what happened on March 16 or 17 isn’t what mattered in the shooting. The officers’ actions are the most important, she said.

“They murdered my fiancé,” she said weeping.

The DA’s decision has broken her family’s hearts a second time.

SeQuette Clark criticized Schubert for focusing on her son’s personal problems instead of the officers’ actions.

“That’s not a permit to kill him,” she said. “What matters is that those officers came around that corner on a vandalism call and killed him.”

The police officers who shot Clark were responding to a 911 call about someone breaking out car windows and hiding in a backyard. The person who made the call told the police that the man — subsequently identified as Clark — had jumped a fence and moved through two backyards into another property.

Schubert began her news conference with an apology to Clark’s family, saying she met with the young man’s mother Saturday morning.

“There is no question that the death of Stephon Clark is a tragedy, not just for his family, but for this community,” she said.

In a lengthy presentation, she detailed police body camera footage, helicopter surveillance videos, and photos and added Clark vandalized three cars, then moved to a backyard where he broke a sliding door that opened to a room where an elderly man was watching television. Then Clark fled to another backyard.

Then the officers, directed by the helicopter’s light, chased him into his grandmother’s backyard.

“Hey, show me your hands,” yelled the lead officer. “Stop. Stop.”

At this point, Clark was about 30 feet away, standing behind a picnic table, Schubert said.

“Show me your hands,” yells one officer, breathing heavily. “Gun. Gun.”

Following that, about 20 shots can be heard on the footage.

“He is down,” one officer says. “No movement. We’re going to need additional units.”

But despite Schubert’s ruling, it doesn’t change the most important fact — that Stephon should still be alive,” said family friend Jamilia Land, who’s a member of CA Families United for Justice, in a statement.

“Stephon was unarmed and in no way a threat,” she said. “Instead, they shot 20 times and hit Stephon at least eight times. Even then, they did not call for medical care even though he was bleeding profusely. Now the Sacramento District Attorney says it’s unjust to charge these officers with Stephon’s murder. Where is Stephon’s justice?”

Schubert has investigated more than 30 police shootings since January 2015 and has never filed charges, The Sacramento Bee reports. With the exception of one case, Schubert found “the “shooting was lawful.”

Clark’s death has lead to some instances of political reform. Last year, lawmakers, with public support, were able to pass a bill that made officer misconduct records open to the public. Another bill, which would have tightened the definition of what is considered justifiable use of deadly force by police didn’t pass, but another version, Assembly Bill 392 was introduced earlier this year.

With this young man’s tragic and needless death, it’s very clear reform is needed. These officers fired on a man who was running away from them. He wasn’t trying to attack them, he was running away from a situation that must have been frightening for him.

I’ve included police body cam footage and video from ABC News to provide context and a little food for thought about this tragedy. But keep in mind that the body cam footage may be disturbing for some.

Featured image by ABC News via YouTube video