The death of Stephon Clark made national headlines last year after the 22-year-old unarmed black man was killed by Sacramento police officers while in his grandparent’s backyard. Police later claimed they mistook his cellphone for a weapon.
On January 28, his family – parents, grandparents and two sons - filed a $20 million wrongful death suit against the city. His grandparents witnessed Clark’s murder.
Law Enforcement Did Not Identify Themselves
According to Clark’s family, law enforcement never identified themselves as they chased Clark through the neighborhood. Clark was shot at 20 times, and received eight bullet wounds in the back, according to an independent autopsy ordered by the family. The county coroner’s autopsy report differs, stating Clark was shot seven times, with three of the shots in his back.
In addition, the family’s attorney – who also represented the family of Trayvon Martin, killed in a Florida shooting – alleges that two officers who shot Clark waited six minutes before attempting to perform measures that may have saved his life.
Besides the fact that Clark was unarmed, the lawsuit notes that Clark “posed no immediate threat of death or serious injury” to the police officers involved, since he was either on the ground or going to ground at the time he was shot in the back.
The suit also claims that the police officers failed to give Clark any form of verbal warning that he was subject to deadly force before opening fire. Clark was not suspected of committing any serious crime, and the officers involved did not suspect him of committing such a crime.
The lawsuit contends less lethal options were available to the officers. The attorney contends that Clark died in his grandparent’s backyard because the police assumed he was a criminal threat as a black man.
Response to Vehicle Vandalization
On the night of the shooting, the police officers responded to a call of a man vandalizing neighborhood vehicles. A police helicopter was used to chase Clark to his grandparent’s backyard, where two officers killed him. The Sacramento District Attorney’s Office has still not announced whether the two officers, Terence Mercadel and Jared Robinet, will face criminal charges in Clark’s death.
The lawsuit also alleges that Clark’s death is partially a result of Sacramento’s failure to properly train its police officers.
Protests Erupt and Continue
After police helicopter and body camera footage were released in the wake of Clark’s death, protests erupted in Sacramento and elsewhere. Since the killing, protestors have shown up outside the Sacramento District Attorney’s office weekly, and the DA’s office has beefed up security and added fencing near their downtown site.
Activists state that Sacramento officials have dragged out the investigation, without giving any reason for doing so. Findings from the city’s investigation and that of the California Attorney General’s investigation into the killing have still not been released.
However, some changes in Sacramento policing have resulted from the shooting. There is now a city policy discouraging police officers from pursuing suspects on foot. The Sacramento police say such changes were made so that officers are reminded about what they are supposed to think about and weigh when they chase a suspect. Activists call the changes too little and too late, noting other police shootings in the city have occurred since Clark’s death.