SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) – California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said Tuesday that two Sacramento Police officers were justified in their use of force in the shooting death of 22-year-old Stephon Clark in his grandparents’ backyard a year ago.
The findings announced by Becerra are the result of an investigation by the state Department of Justice at the request of the Sacramento Police Chief Daniel Hahn.
“For those of us involved, the most critical facts of this story occurred in about 22 minutes,” said Becerra at Tuesday’s press conference.
The independent investigation by Becerra’s office found officers repeatedly shouted “gun” while responding to a complaint of a man wearing a black hoodie and dark pants breaking into cars on the night of March 18, 2018. Aided by a Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department helicopter, the officers followed Clark through a south Sacramento neighborhood.
The chase ended in the back yard of Clark’s grandparents. Moments after yelling “show me your hands,” Sacramento Police officers Terrence Mercadal and Jared Robinet fired 20 shots at Clark, who state investigators found had begun advancing on the officers and had taken a shooting position.
At least three of the shots hit Clark in the back, killing him just feet away from where his family sat in their living room. The incident was recorded by the officers’ body cameras but portions after the shooting are muted. No firearms were found near Clark, who was holding only his cellphone.
Mercadal and Robinet said they saw a light reflected off an object Clark was holding, according to the report. In his statement, Mercadal said he thought he had already been shot.
Becerra said after Clark dropped to the ground Mercadal and Robinet asked each other if they had been hit, because they thought Clark had a gun.
When asked at the press conference how the officers could fire 20 times at Clark, Becerra said, “If you watch the video the entire amount of time it took to fire the ten rounds each was five seconds.”
According to the independent report, the officers said before the shooting they recalled the suspect they were looking for was described as a “male black” wearing black clothing, or a black sweatshirt. But the report disputes the officers’ claim.
“While the color of his clothing was described, our review of the evidence does not indicate that Clark’s ethnicity was described in any dispatcher broadcast. It should be noted that by the time the officers provided statements, they were aware of Clark’s ethnicity,” said the report.
The report also notes Mercadal did not identify himself as an officer. “But given that their two patrol units had arrived on the street” and a police helicopter was flying above with its flood light shining down below, “it was reasonable to expect that the command to stop and show hands was coming from an officer,” according to the report.
Becerra said he met with Stephon’s mother Sequette Clark before Tuesday’s press conference.
“I had a chance to speak briefly with her and listen to her. I know I saw how hard this has been. First the tragedy and then the wait. She and her family have been patient throughout – through the grief, anger, uncertainty. It’s tough,” Becerra said.
Becerra’s announcement comes after a tumultuous weekend in Sacramento in which District Attorney Ann Marie Schubert declined to charge the officers. At a press conference Saturday, Schubert offered details about Clark’s demeanor the night he was killed and noted a domestic violence incident between Clark and the mother of his children two days prior.
Schubert said Clark was in a “state of despair” and scared of going to jail because of the reported domestic violence incident, and had used his cellphone to do internet searches about suicide.
She also underscored questions any potential jury would have.
“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 said. “My ultimate point is that all of the cellphone evidence would be relevant and admissible in court.”
Hours before Becerra’s announcement, police arrested more than 80 people protesting Schubert’s decision. Police said the protesters had ignored several orders to disperse and had blocked an intersection.
Following Becerra’s announcement, U.S. Attorney McGregor Scott of the Eastern District of California said his office, the FBI and U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division will now investigate whether the shooting violated Clark’s federal civil rights.
“That examination will involve a review of the substance and results of the state and local investigations, and any additional investigative steps, if warranted,” said Scott in a statement.