SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) – The family of Stephon Clark, the unarmed black man who was fatally shot by Sacramento police officers in his grandparents’ backyard in 2018, filed a $20 million wrongful death lawsuit against the city Monday.
The family claims two officers didn’t identify themselves when they chased Clark through a Sacramento neighborhood before eventually shooting at him 20 times, all while his grandparents “watched in horror.” The 22-year-old father of two was unarmed and clutching a cellphone when officers fired on him.
Days later, the release of police helicopter and body camera footage sparked widespread protests in Sacramento and other cities. Now over 10 months after the shooting, Clark’s two sons, parents and grandparents have responded with a federal lawsuit and have signed a prominent team of civil rights attorneys.
“The Sacramento police executed Stephon Clark in his grandparents’ backyard, mistaking his cellphone for a gun, assuming he was a criminal threat simply because he was a black man,” attorney Ben Crump said in a statement.
Crump, who has also represented Trayvon Martin’s family, says that after the shooting, officers Terrence Mercadel and Jared Robinet ignored Clark and waited six minutes before trying to perform life-saving measures.
The 31-page complaint filed in the Eastern District of California accuses the city, Mercadel and Robinet of 11 causes of action including wrongful death, excessive force and false arrest and asks for $20 million along with punitive damages.
“The involved officers shot decedent even though he was not an immediate threat of death or serious bodily injury to the officers or anyone else and there were other less than lethal options available,” the complaint states. “[The officers] had no information that decedent had committed a felony.”
City Attorney Susana Alcala-Wood declined to comment, citing “deference to the judicial process and because this is a matter of active litigation.”
Mercadel and Robinet were responding to a call of a man vandalizing vehicles in a Sacramento neighborhood on the night of March 18, 2018. With the help of a police helicopter, the officers chased Clark to what was his grandparents’ home and gunned him down.
After the incident, the police department said that the officers believed Clark was potentially holding a firearm and was moving forward. But an independent autopsy determined Clark was shot six times in the back, while the county’s official autopsy found Clark was shot three times in the back.
Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert has yet to announce whether criminal charges will be filed against either officer.
Since the March 2018 shooting, protesters have gathered outside of Schubert’s office on a weekly basis. Her office has responded by adding security and fencing off the downtown Sacramento location.
Dale Galipo and Los Angeles-based Panish Shea & Boyle are also representing the family in the action.
“Since district attorneys throughout the state and country are reluctant to press criminal charges against police officers involved in unjustified shootings, families of the victims of these unjustified shootings are left only with civil remedies,” Galipo said in a statement. “Hopefully the city of Sacramento will recognize how unjustified the killing of Stephon Clark was and offer an apology and substantial compensation to his family without delay.”