Two Sacramento Police Officers Who Killed Unarmed Stephon Clark Cleared by Prosecutors
The district attorney relied heavily on toxicology reports and cellphone evidence to make her case—a move that was critiqued by some.
The two Sacramento police officers who fired a total of 20 bullets killing Stephon Clark, an unarmed black man whose death set off national protests last year, were cleared by prosecutors Saturday.
During a press conference Sacramento District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert said that no crime occurred when the officers, Terrence Mercadal and Jared Robinet, struck Clark eight times in the backyard of his grandparents’ house last March while responding to reports of vandalism.
Schubert cited a toxicology report, cell phone evidence, and footage from both a police helicopter and body-worn cameras to answer what she called the “central question” of the case: Did the officers’ actions rise to the level of a crime?
“There's no question that a human being died," Schubert said at a press conference Saturday. “But when we look at the facts and the law, and we follow our ethical responsibilities, that answer to that question is no.”
It was the 34th consecutive case dating to 2014 in which police shot someone and Schubert’s office determined officers acted legally when firing their weapons, according the Sacramento Bee.
The decision sparked instant outcry from Clark’s family, who have filed a filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the city.
“The DA has shown us, time and time again, throughout her term, who she is and what she stands for, which is not fairness or justice,” Clark’s mother, Se'Quette Clark, said after the press conference. “We’ve been sitting for a year patiently allowing her an opportunity do right, and she has failed us.”
The shooting occurred after the police responded to reports of broken cars windows in the city's Meadowview neighborhood last March. The officers followed Clark from outside another residence into his grandparents' backyard, where both say they believed he pulled out a gun. The object was later revealed to be a cellphone.
Schubert said Saturday that the officers’ actions and statements during and after the shooting showed they “honestly believed” Clark was armed. She also pointed to footage showing Clark “advanced” on the officers after they demanded to see his weapon.
“Clearly we all know he didn’t have a gun,” Schubert said. “But the officers didn’t know that.”
The district attorney also relied heavily on toxicology reports and cellphone evidence to make her case—a move that was critiqued by some. (“Toxicology and cell phone evidence done on the victim to determine mind frame but not done on the officers,” San Francisco 49ers player Arik Armstead tweeted. “Makes no sense.”)
Schubert said text messages showed an alleged domestic violence incident involving Clark and his wife two days before was “weighing heavily on him,” and pointed to text messages from the day before in which he threatened to take a handful of pills. She also presented a toxicology report showing several different drugs present in his system. The evidence was necessary because it may have impacted Clark’s decision-making, Schubert argued.
The DA's decision was instantly met with outcry from community members. About 50 activists, including Black Lives Matter leaders, gathered outside the police headquarters after the press conference, according to the Sacramento Bee. Groups such as the ACLU of California and Color of Change denounced the decision in interviews and statements.
“Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert has failed the public in her most fundamental role,” the Sacramento Democratic Party tweeted. “The blood from the murder of #StephonClark is on Anne Marie Schubert’s hands and all those that blindly defend her.”
Mayor Darrell Steinberg said at a press conference Saturday that community leaders had been meeting for six weeks to think of ways to prevent such a shooting from ever happening again. He urged Sacramento residents to “come together now to make sure this a tipping point for our community, not a breaking point,” adding, “I hope this tragedy propels change.”
The police department is still completing an internal review that will determine whether Mercadal and Robinet followed department protocol and if they can return to the force.