Mayor Pushes Bill To Criminalize Justified Shootings After Stephon Clark Ruling
Correction: This article initially referenced an earlier proposal for a deadly force bill which restricts when force can be used. Instead, the submitted bill actually focuses on criminalizing how officers got into deadly force situations, rather than being more restrictive on the use of deadly force itself.
Sacramento, CA – The mayor of Sacramento used the district attorney’s announcement that no charges would be filed against the police officers who killed Stephon Clark to recommit to changing the use of deadly force policy in California.
Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert announced during a press conference on Saturday that her office had determined that the officers had not committed a crime when they shot 22-year-old Clark, believing he had a gun.
“This is a difficult day for Sacramento,” Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg said.
Steinberg apologized to the Clark family multiple times after the announcement during a press conference outside City Hall, and said he hoped the case would be a “a tipping point for our community and not a breaking point,” the Sacramento Bee reported.
“Today’s announcement only deepens our commitment to transformational community policing and better training,” the mayor said. “Today’s announcement only deepens our commitment to changing the legal standard from whether a shooting was reasonable to whether it could have been prevented. Today’s announcement only deepens our commitment to making sustained and meaningful investments in our neighborhoods and our young people.”
He said he wasn’t surprised at the district attorney’s determination based on current California law.
“What matters most now is what we do going forward together,” Steinberg said. “The current constitutional standard that dates back to, I believe, the 1800s says that if an officer-involved shooting is deemed reasonable after the fact, that it is then justifiable. I believe that that standard needs to be changed. I think the question must be, was the shooting preventable?”
Schubert’s decision not to charge the officers who shot Clark came after an almost year-long investigation by the Sacramento Police Department, an investigation by the California Department of Justice, and an expert consultant.
The incident that led to Clark’s death began when officers responded to a 911 call about someone breaking into cars at about 9:18 p.m. on March 18, 2018.
Upon arrival, officers found at least three cars that had their windows smashed in, and spoke to a neighbor who had confronted Clark with a baseball bat.
DNA and glass analysis now prove that Clark is the person who smashed the windows, Schubert said.
Officers were then notified that the police helicopter had spotted Clark in the backyard of a residence.
Clark appeared to be using a large object to break out the rear sliding glass door of the occupied home, deputies said.
Schubert said Clark smashed the entire sliding glass door with a cinderblock brick.
The helicopter and officers on the ground spotted Clark, 22, as he moved along the side of a house, later identified as his grandparents’ home.
The officers ordered Clark to show his hands and stop, but Clark fled from officers into the backyard of the home.
Both officers pursued Clark, who then turned in a shooting stance and advanced towards officers with an object extended towards them.
Schubert said Clark advanced from about 30 feet away to being only 16 feet away from officers before they opened fire.
In the bodycam video, you could hear an officer yell, "Gun, gun, gun" as Clark took the shooting stance.
One of the officers later said that he saw a flash of light which he believed to be muzzle flash from a gun being fired. The other officer said he thought he saw a reflection of light on a metallic object, Schubert said.
The bodycam video captured the flash of light but the source of the light was unclear.
The object in Clark's hand was later identified as a cell phone.
A forensic examination of the phone later showed that Clark was not recording the officers at the time of the shooting.
The bodycam showed the officers talking immediately after the shooting, discussing if they were hit and how to safely remove what they believed to be a gun.
A toxicology report showed that Clark had alcohol, Xanax, codeine, hydrocodone, marijuana, and cocaine metabolite in his blood.
Schubert explained that his toxicology report was relevant because it shows why Clark's behavior may have been altered.
Investigators later determined that two days before the shooting, he had committed domestic violence assault involving the mother of his children. At the time of the shooting he was wanted for the domestic violence and a felony probation violation.
The mother of Clark's children texted him that there was a warrant for his arrest and he was going to be locked up for the rest of his life.
Investigators found that Clark had drafted an e-mail to law enforcement on his phone about the domestic violence and said that he was afraid he'd be put in jail.
He then searched over two dozen sites about how to commit suicide, which primarily focused on suicide by drug ingestion. Xanax and alcohol mixture was a combination which came up in his search results.
After that search, he texted the mother of his children asking if she wanted him to kill himself and he sent her a picture of Xanax pills and threatened to take them all.
Schubert said that her office determined that the officers had probable cause to stop Stephon Clark, and his flight didn't remove their responsibility to stop him.
Under the laws directing officers' use of force, police were justified in using deadly force against Clark, Schubert said.
The mayor’s solution to an incident that has essentially been ruled a suicide-by-cop by an emotionally disturbed man was to shore up his support for new legislation governing officers’ use-of-force in California.
Steinberg promised to lobby in support of Assembly Bill 392, a bill that would change the rules for use of deadly force in California, the Sacramento Bee reported.
He said city officials were working with the Sacramento Police Department to change their deadly force policies based on recent recommendations from California Attorney General Xavier Becerra.
Becerra said Sacramento police needed to use better discretion in pursuing suspects, according to the Sacramento Bee.
“On the policing front, we have more work to do, that’s obvious,” Steinberg said.
The city set up safe spaces in a church and community centers for residents to gather over the weekend and “share our frustrations.”