(SACRAMENTO, Calif.) Calls for changes to California’s use of force policies echoed throughout the state capital Saturday after the Sacramento district attorney announced that two local police officers who fatally shot a black man after mistaking his cellphone for a gun will not face criminal charges.
Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert said Officers Terrence Mercadal and Jared Robinet acted legally when they fired 20 rounds at Stephon Clark, 22, last March after chasing him into his grandmother’s backyard and apparently confusing his iPhone for a weapon. Schubert said the officers acted reasonably because they saw a flash of light near Clark’s hand, seconds before Clark advance toward the officers.
Both officers said they believed Clark had a gun, she said, and responded by opening fire.
Schubert also released detailed text messages and other information on Clark’s cellphone, outlining what she described as a domestic violence incident between Clark and Salena Manni, the mother of his two children, two days before the shooting. She said Clark indicated he was thinking about suicide, may have ingested pharmaceuticals with the intent of attempting suicide and feared being arrested.
The district attorney said she was presenting the personal information because had she decided to press charges, a jury might have found it relevant. “You can see there were many things weighing heavily on his mind,” she said.
SeQuette Clark, who is the mother of Stephon Clark, said that what her son went through in the days before his death was not relevant.
“She wants to go on a smear campaign on his character and his actions,” Clark said at a news conference after Schubert’s announcement. Whatever happened before the shooting, she said, “that is not justification. That is not a permit to kill him.”
“It was homicide and they should be charged,” Clark said of the officers. The justice system, she said, “it’s not for us. It’s not for the black community. I feel, shame on the D.A.”
Clark’s family has filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against the city seeking up to $35 million in damages.
Raj Manni, father of Salena Manni, said his daughter was not informed her private texts would be released, and believed Schubert was attempting to paint Clark in a negative light.
“We are just outraged, frustrated and very angry,” said Manni. “For her to do what she did is outrageous. This was supposed to be a murder investigation.”
Many in the black community had previously said they did not expect Schubert to charge the officers, but shared Manni’s sentiment about the release of personal information.
“We expected the decision she gave but what I didn’t expect was for her to be so dirty,” said Sonia Lewis of Black Lives Matter.
Clark’s shooting prompted large protests last year and fueled statewide police reform legislation that led to a new transparency measure allowing greater public access to law enforcement records.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom issued a statement Saturday, saying we “need to acknowledge the hard truth _ our criminal justice system treats young black and Latino men and women differently than their white counterparts. That must change.”
Stevante Clark, Stephon Clark’s brother, has become a vocal advocate for police reform and is supporting Assembly Bill 392, which would make it easier to prosecute police involved in shootings. Law enforcement unions have put forward their own bill, Senate Bill 230, which would address use of force through policies and training.
Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg said he would support legislation, Assembly Bill 392, that would tighten the standards for use of force in California and make it easier to prosecute officers in shootings.
“The standard needs to change,” said Steinberg, a former leader of the state Senate. “The question must be, ‘Was the shooting preventable?'”
Clark was shot March 18, 2018, after police answered a 911 call about vandalism. Schubert confirmed in her report that Clark had broken the window on three vehicles before a witness saw him jump a fence into a backyard.
Mercadal and Robinet responded and were directed to Clark by a deputy in a Sheriff’s Department helicopter who spotted Clark breaking a sliding glass door in a nearby backyard, then jumping a fence into his grandmother’s property. The two officers pursued him, firing 10 shots each after Mercadal yelled that Clark had a gun, according to the DA’s report. Clark was hit at least seven times.
A second review of the incident by state Attorney General Xavier Becerra will probably be released “soon,” his spokeswoman said. The Sacramento Police Department requested the state Department of Justice assessment to allay community concerns about the impartiality of the investigation.
Ed Obayashi, a lawyer and Plumas County sheriff’s deputy who consults statewide on use of force, said that Schubert’s analysis was a reflection of current case law and that the decision against filing charges was legally sound.
“It would be a complete abuse of prosecutorial powers if she did,” he said. “There is no way they can prosecute this beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Small protests took place outside of Sacramento City Hall and at the main police station on Saturday afternoon, but Lewis said she expected larger actions in coming days.
“Right now people are in a moment of mourning,” Lewis said. “It will probably ignite.”
-By Anita Chabria, Los Angeles Times