No charges against of­fi­cers who shot Stephon Clark

The Fresno Bee (Sunday) - - Front Page - BY SAM STANTON, TONY BIZJAK, DALE KASLER, MOLLY SUL­LI­VAN AND RYAN SABALOW The Sacra­mento Bee

year af­ter Sacra­mento po­lice shot Stephon Clark to death and sparked a re­newed na­tional di­a­logue over po­lice shoot­ings of young black men, Sacra­mento County Dis­trict At­tor­ney Anne Marie Schu­bert de­clared Sat­ur­day that the of­fi­cers feared for their lives and “acted law­fully un­der the cir­cum­stances.” She de­clared the shoot­ing jus­ti­fied and said her of­fice was not press­ing crim­i­nal charges.

In a state­ment that lasted more than an hour, Schu­bert said the of­fi­cers who shot Clark thought he was armed with a gun when they con­fronted him in a Mead­owview back­yard on March 18, 2018. The pair had re­ceived a call of some­one break­ing car win­dows. They con­fronted Clark, who was 22, and chased him into a back­yard. Video showed Clark ad­vanc­ing to­ward the of­fi­cers. One of­fi­cer said he thought he saw a muz­zle flash at them.

“Clearly we all know he didn’t have a gun,” Schu­bert said. “But the of­fi­cers didn’t know that.”

In­ves­ti­ga­tors later found that the of­fi­cers had mis­taken a white and pink iPhone in his hands for a gun, a de­ter­mi­na­tion that led to an­gry protests na­tion­wide and dozens of pro­posed re­forms in how the Sacra­mento Po­lice De­part­ment trains its of­fi­cers on the use of deadly force.

The dis­trict at­tor­ney de­tailed her find­ings in a 61-page re­port re­leased Sat­ur­day morn­ing. That re­view, based on video record­ings, au­topsy re­ports and wit­ness in­ter­views, found that the of­fi­cers’ ac­tions were le­gal based on the sit­u­a­tion they thought they were in.

“The ev­i­dence in this case demon­strates that both of­fi­cers had an hon­est and rea­son­able be­lief that they were in im­mi­nent dan­ger of death or great bod­ily in­jury,” Schu­bert wrote in a seven-page sum­mary that ac­com­pa­nied the re­port. “There­fore, the shoot­ing of Mr. Clark was law­ful and no crim­i­nal charges will be filed.”

She re­it­er­ated that state­ment at a news con­fer­ence in her of­fice Sat­ur­day at noon. “Was a crime com­mit­ted?” Schu­bert asked. “There is no ques­tion that a hu­man be­ing died. But when we look at the facts and the law, the an­swer to that ques­tion is no.”

The re­port, the 34th con­sec­u­tive of­fi­cer-in­volved shoot­ing re­view that Schu­bert’s of­fice has is­sued with a find­ing that of­fi­cers acted legally, also of­fered sym­pa­thetic words over Clark’s death, a nod to the an­gry protests and con­cil­ia­tory remarks about the shoot­ing by SacraOne mento Mayor Dar­rell Stein­berg.

“Stephon Clark’s death was a tragedy that has had a dev­as­tat­ing im­pact on his fam­ily and our com­mu­nity,” Schu­bert wrote in the re­port sum­mary. “A young man lost his life and many lives have been ir­re­versibly changed. No de­ci­sion or re­port will re­store Stephon Clark’s life.”

Schu­bert, who has be­come the fo­cus of Black Lives Mat­ters pro­test­ers and oth­ers who wanted Of­fi­cers Ter­rence Mer­cadel and Jared Robi­net charged with mur­der, was met with mem­bers of the Clark fam­ily be­fore re­leas­ing her re­port Sat­ur­day.

Schu­bert noted in the sum­mary ac­com­pa­ny­ing her find­ings that the lack of crim­i­nal charges “in no way di­min­ishes the frus­tra­tions and anger that many in our com­mu­nity have ex­pressed since his death.”

A sep­a­rate re­port is ex­pected to be is­sued in com­ing days by state At­tor­ney Gen­eral Xavier Be­cerra, who has been con­duct­ing his own in­ves­ti­ga­tion. The U.S. At­tor­ney’s Of­fice in Sacra­mento plans to re­view both in­ves­ti­ga­tions in its own re­view of the shoot­ing.

The dis­trict at­tor­ney’s re­port, the length­i­est she has re­leased in an of­fi­cer-in­volved shoot­ing, of­fers the most de­tailed look to date at the events lead­ing up to the shoot­ing.

COM­MU­NITY RE­AC­TION

Se­quette Clark, the mother of Stephon Clark, blasted Schu­bert’s de­ci­sion.

“It is not right, it is not right,” Clark told re­porters in an im­promptu news con­fer­ence out­side her home in south Sacra-

mento.

She said the DA has “never charged an of­fi­cer with homi­cide. My son is the one who is go­ing to break the mold be­cause we are not go­ing to ac­cept this.

“This is just the be­gin­ning – the fight for jus­tice,” she said. “The fight will be­gin now.”

She was also fu­ri­ous about what she called “a smear cam­paign about his char­ac­ter,” re­fer­ring to Schu­bert’s dis­clo­sure of text mes­sages be­tween Clark and Salena Manni, the mother of his chil­dren, who had filed a do­mes­tic vi­o­lence com­plaint against him two days lead­ing up to his shoot­ing. Schu­bert also dis­closed tox­i­col­ogy re­sults show­ing traces of co­caine and other drugs in Clark’s sys­tem.

Mayor Dar­rell Stein­berg said Schu­bert’s deep­ens his com­mit­ment to “pro­tect­ing the sanc­tity of all life,” and sev­eral com­mu­nity cen­ters would be open through the day as gath­er­ing places for frus­trated res­i­dents.

At a City Hall press con­fer­ence, Stein­berg said he hopes the case be­comes “a tip­ping point for our com­mu­nity and not a break­ing point.”

Apol­o­giz­ing re­peat­edly to the Clark fam­ily, the mayor said he would lobby the Leg­is­la­ture on be­half of AB 392, a bill that would tighten the stan­dards gov­ern­ing the use of deadly force by po­lice of­fi­cers in Cal­i­for­nia. He also said city of­fi­cials would con­tinue work­ing with the Po­lice De­part­ment on chang­ing deadly force poli­cies, as rec­om­mended re­cently by At­tor­ney Gen­eral Xavier Be­cerra. Among other things, Be­cerra said Sacra­mento po­lice must use more dis­cre­tion be­fore pur­su­ing sus­pects.

Stand­ing be­side Stein­berg, Pas­tor Ta­mara Ben­nett, of This is Pen­te­cost Fel­low­ship Min­istries in south Sacra­mento, said com­mu­nity cen­ters would pro­vide venues for young peo­ple and their par­ents to “share our frus­tra­tions” and talk about so­lu­tions. The cen­ters would be open at her church, the Sacra­mento Ur­ban League, Oak Park Com­mu­nity Cen­ter, Max Baer Park and the Roberts Fam­ily Devel­op­ment Cen­ter.

Chok­ing back tears, she said she hopes “our city will be healed and our city will be saved.”

Out­side City Hall, a group of re­li­gious lead­ers ex­pressed their dis­may with the DA’s de­ci­sion.

“We’re pray­ing for jus­tice, we’re ask­ing for jus­tice, we’re de­mand­ing jus­tice,” said Pas­tor Les Sim­mons of South Sacra­mento Chris­tian Cen­ter.

Gov. Gavin New­som called for “sys­temic re­forms” in the state’s crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem.

New­som is­sued a state­ment call­ing for in­creased com­mu­nity policing and other ef­forts to build trust be­tween res­i­dents and po­lice.

“We need to ac­knowl­edge the hard truth – our crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem treats young black and Latino men and women dif­fer­ently than their white coun­ter­parts. That must change,” New­som said.

Cur­rently, the stan­dard for de­cid­ing whether to pros­e­cute law en­force­ment of­fi­cers cen­ters on whether their ac­tions are “rea­son­able.” Shirley We­ber’s Assem­bly Bill 392, the Act to Save Lives, would change the stan­dard to whether deadly force is “nec­es­sary.”

“It is un­for­tu­nate to say, but this out­come was ex­pected,” We­ber said in a writ­ten state­ment af­ter Schu­bert’s an­nounce­ment. “For too long the stan­dard for the use of lethal force in Cal­i­for­nia has led to un­nec­es­sary deaths like Stephon Clark’s. To al­low the sta­tus quo to re­main will mean more un­nec­es­sary deaths and more fam­i­lies left with­out jus­tice for the loss of their loved ones.”

New­som did not en­dorse We­ber’s bill. His of­fice said he would care­fully re­view it if it reaches his desk. Stein­berg, a for­mer Se­nate pres­i­dent, said Sat­ur­day he en­dorsed We­ber’s pro­posal.

46 HOURS OF CHAOS

The re­port de­scribes 46 hours be­fore the shoot­ing dur­ing which Clark al­legedly at­tacked his girl­friend, re­searched in­ter­net sites for ways to com­mit sui­cide and begged her not to help po­lice send him back to jail.

These events be­gan with a 911 call at 11:52 p.m. March 16 – a Fri­day night – in which a neigh­bor re­ported Clark had hit his girl­friend, Salena Manni, the mother of their two chil­dren.

The girl­friend told of­fi­cers Clark had hit her in the face four to five times, punch­ing her with a fist and slap­ping her be­fore shov­ing her head into the wall, where po­lice found a 3-inch-di­am­e­ter hole, ac­cord­ing to the re­port.

Clark, who was on pro­ba­tion for two cases of do­mes­tic vi­o­lence against the girl­friend, one for rob­bery and a fourth for loi­ter­ing for pros­ti­tu­tion, was not there when of­fi­cers ar­rived.

But data ex­tracted from the iPhone he was us­ing – which be­longed to his girl­friend – show he tried to call her 76 times in the day af­ter 911 was called, the re­port states.

By Sat­ur­day af­ter­noon, March 17, Clark was us­ing the phone to search the in­ter­net for the dis­trict at­tor­ney’s of­fice and be­gins try­ing to reach his pro­ba­tion of­fi­cer, who did not im­me­di­ately see the mes­sages be­cause of the week­end.

By that even­ing, Clark be­gan con­duct­ing in­ter­net searches with top­ics such as “how much bleach can I drink be­fore I die” and “eas­i­est ways to kill your­self,” the re­port says.

CLARK IS SHOT

His next con­tact with po­lice came March 18, a Sun­day, about 9 p.m., when 911 calls be­gan to come in about some­one break­ing into cars in the 7900 block of 29th Street and nearby ar­eas.

The re­port says of­fi­cers saw Clark run and jump a fence into a back­yard, where he used a cin­der block to smash a glass back door at the home of an 89-year-old man who was watch­ing tele­vi­sion.

Clark ran into a back­yard where there was no light­ing and no porch light – of­fi­cers didn’t re­al­ize at the time it was his grand­par­ents’ home – and Mer­cadel came around the cor­ner of the home to see Clark with “the hood of his sweat­shirt pulled up and his arms ex­tended out in front of him at chest level con­sis­tent with a shoot­ing po­si­tion,” the re­port states.

Mer­cadel saw a “metal­lic flash” he thought was from a firearm, shouted “Gun” and took cover be­hind the cor­ner, the re­view says.

When Mer­cadel looked back around the cor­ner, he saw Clark had moved 10 feet to­ward him and was ad­vanc­ing, the re­port says.

Robi­net saw “what ap­peared to be light re­flect­ing off a metal­lic ob­ject in Clark’s hands, and ... feared it was a firearm,” the re­port says.

The two of­fi­cers fired a to­tal of 20 shots, and seven hit Clark, ac­cord­ing to the county’s au­topsy. En­hanced ver­sions of Mer­cadel’s body cam­era video shows Clark “ap­pears to have raised his lower arms and hands to his chest area, con­sis­tent with the of­fi­cers’ de­scrip­tions,” the re­port says.

DANIEL KIM [email protected]

Sacra­mento County Dis­trict At­tor­ney Anne Marie Schu­bert points at a map of the scene of the Stephon Clark shoot­ing at a news con­fer­ence Sat­ur­day in Sacra­mento.

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