The family of Stephon Clark renewed its calls for justice Thursday, hours after police in Sacramento released body-camera and helicopter video footage of a fatal shooting by officers that activists say raises new questions about the officers’ actions.
Clark, 22, was killed Sunday after two officers, responding to a call about someone breaking windows with a crowbar, confronted him outside his grandmother’s home. In video footage, Clark can be seen running to the backyard, where an officer is heard yelling at Clark to “show me your hands” and then exclaiming “Gun!” The two officers fired 20 times at Clark, killing him. The only thing in his hands, police have since said, was a white iPhone.
“He was at the wrong place at the wrong time in his own backyard?” Sequita Thompson, Clark’s grandmother, told the Sacramento Bee. “Come on, now – they didn’t have to do that.”
The video’s audio also captured one of the officers seeming to suggest that they turn their cameras off.
“Hey mute?” an officer says to another about seven minutes after the shooting. The audio goes silent, and shortly after, the videos end.
“It clearly implies to me that they’re on the scene trying to figure out the coverup,” said the Rev. Al Sharpton, who spoke with Clark’s mother Wednesday and whose civil rights group is helping the family find legal representation. “You’re standing over a dead body that you thought had a gun, you find out he had no gun, and your immediate impulse is to mute the sound.”
Clark is one of at least 230 people who have been fatally shot by police in 2018, according to The Washington Post’s database of fatal police shootings. Of them, he is the 38th black man.
“I know there could have been another way,” Clark’s brother Stevante told CBS News. “He didn’t have to die.”
“You’re going to know his name forever,” he added before reciting the names of several black men who were killed by police. “You’re going to remember it, like how you know . . . Mike Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice. You’re going to know him. You’re going to remember this.”
Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg offered his condolences to Clark’s family and said in a statement that he was “heartbroken” for the city. “The questions raised by the community and council members are appropriate and must be answered during the investigation,” Steinberg said, though he noted that he had reviewed the police videos carefully and said, “Based on the videos alone, I cannot second-guess the split-second decisions of our officers, and I’m not going to do that.”
Clark is at least the sixth person fatally shot by the Sacramento Police Department since the beginning of 2015, according to a Post analysis. Five of them were black men; the other was a white man.
The October 2015 shooting of Adriene Ludd and the September 2017 shooting of Eric Arnold were the only two of the six fatal Sacramento police shootings in which the person killed was armed with a gun.
Police say Ludd fled after a traffic stop and fired at officers before he was killed.
Arnold, a suspect in a double homicide, shot two police officers before he was fatally shot.
Matt Coates was holding a plastic BB gun when he was fatally shot by police in Sacramento in May 2015. His girlfriend would later tell reporters that she had told the officers that the gun wasn’t real. In two of the cases – the fatal shootings of Dazion Flenaugh and Joseph Mann – Sacramento police killed people alleged to have been armed with a knife.
The Clark video’s relatively quick release came as the result of policy changes implemented after the 2016 shooting of Mann, a black man said to suffer from mental illness. The new policies require all patrol officers to wear body cameras and mandate that videos of critical incidents be released within 30 days.
Still, for some in Sacramento and across the country, watching the video raised as many questions as it answered. “Even if he did what they say was done,” said Les Simmons, a pastor and community activist in Sacramento, “at the end of the day it does not justify his life being taken.”
(c) 2018, The Washington Post · Alex Horton, Wesley Lowery