No charges against officers who shot Stephon Clark
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.
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-
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.
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.