SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) – Two Sacramento police officers that chased Stephon Clark into his grandparents’ backyard and fatally shot the unarmed 22-year-old black man won’t face criminal charges, according to the local district attorney on Saturday.
In a much anticipated announcement that immediately set off demonstrations in downtown Sacramento, veteran Sacramento District Attorney Ann Marie Schubert said Saturday that her investigation backs up the officers’ claim that they believed Clark was pointing a gun as he ignored commands and moved toward them in the dark backyard.
“The question is: was a crime committed?” Schubert said during a lengthy press conference. “When we look at the facts and the law, and we follow our ethical responsibilities, the answer to that question is no.”
For over 90 minutes Schubert dug into the events that preceded Clark’s death, using the rare weekend press conference as her closing argument to Clark’s family and Sacramento residents still reeling from another case of police killing an unarmed black man.
Schubert said evidence confirmed Clark was breaking car windows and jumping backyard fences before encountering police and that he was on drugs and potentially suicidal.
In what was no doubt a harsh press conference for Clark’s family and friends, Schubert recited details from a domestic violence incident between Clark and the mother of his children two days prior. She said text messages and internet searches recovered from Clark’s cellphone -which the officers mistook for a gun- show that Clark was conflicted and scared of going to jail because of the reported domestic violence incident.
“I think it’s quite clear that Mr. Clark was in as state of despair and he was impaired. It’s very sad, because no human being should be in that position,” Schubert told reporters.
When asked why information pried from Clark’s cellphone was relevant to determining whether the shooting was legal, Schubert responded that it was a common law enforcement procedure and that a jury would have received the same info if she brought charges.
Officers Terrence Mercadal and Jared Robinet were responded to a complaint that a man wearing a black hoodie and dark pants was breaking into cars on the night of March 18. Aided by a Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department helicopter, the officers followed Clark through a south Sacramento neighborhood with the chase ending in his grandparents’ backyard.
Moments after yelling “show me your hands,” the officers unloaded 20 shots and killed the father of two who wasn’t clutching a weapon but instead a cellphone. The incident was recorded by the officers’ body cameras but portions after the shooting are muted. No firearms were found near Clark, who was shot several times in the back with his family just feet away in their living room.
Facing intense pressure from Sacramento residents and activists, law enforcement released the helicopter and body camera footage. The disturbing footage prompted protests in Sacramento and other cities, and Clark’s family responded with a $20 million wrongful death lawsuit in January 2019.
Schubert broke down the helicopter and body camera footage from the night, focusing on the final moments of Clark’s life. She believes the footage shows that a short flash of light coming from Clark and that he was facing officers as he moved several feet toward them before being shot.
Clark wasn’t armed or recording with his phone and Schubert was unable to say for sure what the alleged flash was. Mercadal and Robinet interpreted the light as a reflection from a gun or a flash coming from the muzzle of Clark’s perceived weapon.
The DA’s presentation focused mainly on Clark’s mindset and not on the officers, as her office did not interview either of the officers, instead relying on reports conducted by the police department and the state attorney general’s office.
“Why does he smash windows and not steal anything? Why does he jump fences in his own neighborhood? Why does he smash the rear sliding door of a neighbor while a helicopter is above? Why does he not go into his house and instead go along the side of the house,” Schubert recounted potential questions that a jury might have. “My ultimate point is that all of the cellphone evidence would be relevant and admissible in court.”
Clark’s family and civil rights groups were not satisfied with Schubert’s pronouncement, unsurprisingly.
Clark’s mother and brother told reporters outside of the press conference that justice wasn’t served and criticized Schubert for diving into Clark’s actions 48 hours prior to the incident. Stephon’s mother Sequette Clark said the fight for justice “will not end, and in fact has just begun.”
The American Civil Liberties Union said the incident is more clear proof that the California Legislature needs to act and change police use of force laws.
“Today’s decision opens a new wound for the Sacramento community and serves as a potent reminder that California’s law on the use of deadly force needs immediate reform. Our hearts go out to Mr. Clark’s friends and family, and the entire Sacramento community,” said ACLU of California legislative advocate Lizzie Buchen.
Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg tweeted that he supports the proposed legislation being sponsored by the ACLU.
“It’s time for us to update our use our use of force policy to prevent more tragedies like the death of Stephon Clark. I support the Weber bill in principle and will use my legislative experience to help both sides negotiate,” said the mayor and former state senate leader.