Stephon Clark, 22, was shot and killed in his grandparents’ backyard by police on Sunday, March 18. According to a press release issued by the Sacramento Police Department, police were dispatched to 7500 block of 29th Street after a caller reported that a male subject had broken car windows and was now hiding in a backyard around 9 pm.
The caller described the subject as a male, 6’1”, thin, wearing a black hoodie and dark pants. The Sacramento Sheriff’s Department’s helicopter (STAR) which was also on the scene searching for the suspect directed officers to a backyard and “advised the subject had just picked up a toolbar and broke a window to a residence”.
As the press release explained, “Officers entered the front yard and observed the suspect along the side of the residence. The officers gave the suspect commands to stop and show his hands. The suspect immediately fled from the officers and ran towards the back of the home”.
Videos released by the Sacramento police on Wednesday seems to call this story into question. The release includes two audio and three video recordings, including camera footage from the two officers involved in the shooting, whom the department confirmed each fired 10 shots at Clark.
In the police officer’s body camera footage, officers spot Clark from their hiding place around the wall, yell “Show me your hands! Gun! Gun! Gun!” and fire their guns. The officers wait almost five minutes before they approach Clark, place him in handcuffs and perform medical treatment. At the 15 minute mark, an officer says, “Hey, mute”, after which nothing else is heard but officers are seen talking.
In the sound from the video footage from the sheriff’s helicopter, officers are directed to Clark’s location. In the heat map, Clark appears to be walking through the yard when he is shot by police cowering behind a wall.
The clips do not show Clark charging towards officers. The department has confirmed that Clark was unarmed and holding only a cellphone. Videos from other responding officers are expected to be released soon.
Black Lives Matter
In 2014, police killings of unarmed black men, often with ‘impunity’, helped fuel the rise of the Black Lives Matter Movement. An analysis of 2015 police killings by the Guardian revealed that “racial minorities made up about 37.4 percent of the general population in the US and 46.6 percent of armed and unarmed victims, but they made up 62.7 percent of unarmed people killed by police”. Although attention has waned on the issue, Clark’s fatal shooting has refueled national outcry about racial disparities in policing.
Tanya Faison, founder of the Sacramento chapter of Black Lives Matter, told reporters, on the Clark case, “They put one story out that he may have been armed. They put out another that he had a ‘tool bar,’ whatever that is,” Then they put out that he had a wrench, and then they put out that he just had a cellphone. They need to get it together.”
Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg wrote in a statement Wednesday night that he “viewed the videos carefully” and “based on the videos alone, [he] cannot second guess the split-second decisions of our officers and [he’s] not going to do that”. We need more information in addition to the video before we can render any final conclusions,” he added.
The officers who shot Clark have been placed on paid leave while the investigation continues. Their names are expected to be released within 10 days.