Sacramento Man Killed By Police Shot Eight Times In The Back Or Side, Autopsy Finds

Stephon Clark died after being shot eight times in the back and side by police in Sacramento. So far, the authorities haven't acted.

A Sacramento man whose death at the hands of police has become the subject of protests in recent days was shot at least eight times in the back according to an independent autopsy commissioned by the dead man’s family:

Stephon Clark, the unarmed black man who was killed by the Sacramento police in his grandmother’s backyard, was shot eight times from behind or the side, according to a private autopsy commissioned by his family. The autopsy concluded that Mr. Clark’s death was not instantaneous, taking an estimated three to 10 minutes, raising questions about why Mr. Clark was not given more immediate medical care after the shooting.

Mr. Clark, whose death has sparked protests throughout the city, was shot at more than 20 times by officers responding to a vandalism report in a Sacramento neighborhood last week.

At least eight of those bullets struck Mr. Clark, according to an analysis by Dr. Bennet Omalu, a private medical examiner his family’s lawyer hired to conduct an independent autopsy, which was released Friday.

According to Dr. Omalu, Mr. Clark was shot four times in the lower part of his back, twice in his neck, and once under an armpit. He was also shot in the leg. One of the neck wounds was from the side, the doctor found.

“You could reasonably conclude that he received seven gunshot wounds from his back,” Dr. Omalu said at a news conference on Friday. He added that each of those seven shots could have had a “fatal capacity” and described severe damage to Mr. Clark’s body, including a shattered vertebrae and a collapsed lung.

“These findings from the independent autopsy contradict the police narrative that we’ve been told,” Benjamin Crump, the family’s lawyer, said in a statement. “This independent autopsy affirms that Stephon was not a threat to police and was slain in another senseless police killing under increasingly questionable circumstances.”

Mr. Crump said the results proved that Mr. Clark could not have been moving in a threatening fashion toward the officers when they opened fire.

Mr. Clark’s family has expressed frustration with the response from county and city officials, whom they have suggested are trying to cover up misconduct by their police officers. The independent autopsy, Mr. Crump and his team said, was undertaken to guarantee impartiality. The Sacramento County Coroner’s office has not publicly released Mr. Clark’s autopsy results, but did confirm that he died of multiple gunshot wounds. They had not disclosed how many bullets hit Mr. Clark. The Sacramento police did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the private autopsy.

Mr. Clark’s death has sparked intense anger and grief in Sacramento, particularly among the city’s black residents. Protesters have taken to the streets nearly every day to call attention to his killing and have called on the city’s leadership to fire the two officers involved in the shooting.

The Police Department is investigating the shooting and assessing whether its officers violated any protocols. Chief Daniel Hahn requested assistance from the California Department of Justice earlier this week, headed by Attorney General Xavier Becerra, to join the investigation as an independent party. Mr. Hahn said he hoped that step would reassure residents that the investigation was being conducted impartially.

From the beginning the circumstances of Clark’s death have been suspicious to say the least:

Two police officers were dispatched to the Meadowview neighborhood in South Sacramento on March 18 to investigate a report that someone was breaking car windows in the area. A county sheriff’s department helicopter joined the search and hovered above, at one point telling officers that a suspect had picked up a crowbar.

The officers eventually spotted Mr. Clark, who appears to have run from them into his grandmother’s backyard. They ordered Mr. Clark to show his hands and seconds later fired 20 bullets in his direction. The officers, according to a statement by the Police Department, believed Mr. Clark was armed. In the body camera video, an officer is heard shouting the word “gun” repeatedly and opening fire almost immediately. No weapon was found on Mr. Clark’s body; the only object officers found was his cellphone.

After they were joined by reinforcements, the two officers on the scene muted the audio on their body cameras as they discussed what had happened, which has drawn criticism. Questions were also raised about the timing of the medical response.

Dr. Omalu said that he could not determine if Mr. Clark would have survived if he had received medical attention more quickly, but “every minute you wait decreases probability of survival.”

Beyond these initial reports, there are few details regarding the incident that has been released by authorities, and the police have also declined to release the Medical Examiner’s report on the official autopsy that was conducted in the aftermath of the body. As such, it’s not clear if that autopsy comes to the same conclusions as the one reached by the pathologist employed by Clark’s family. There has been some footage released from the body camera worn by one of the officers  involved in the pursuit of the suspect they were looking for, but it is inclusive and doesn’t really establish much of anything in terms of the circumstances that led up the police unleashing a volley of 20 bullets at Clark over a very short period of time. Additionally, the revelation that the officers apparently muted the audio on their body cameras after the incident was over and they were discussing what happens is at the very least suspicious since those conversations are likely to be highly relevant in figuring out what happened. For some, of course, that act alone is a sign that the officers were seeking to come to an agreement on a version of events that painted them in a good light after they discovered that Clark did not have a weapon on him.

In any case, this case seems to fit an all too familiar pattern not unlike ones that we’ve seen before. Once again, a young African-American man who at the very least was unarmed and very well may have been innocent of any crime at all ends up dead at the hands of police. The fact that he was shot in the back and the side would seem to make it clear that he was either running away from the officers or that he had his back turned to them, in which case even if he did have a weapon he would not have been an immediate threat to them or their safety. The fact that authorities appear to be slow-walking the investigation also fits a pattern that we’ve seen in other, similar cases across the country in recent years, cases that usually end up with the police walking away without any charges being filed or with acquittals in the small handful of cases where charges are actually filed and taken to trial.

In this case, the California Attorney General and the state’s Department of Justice have stepped in to supervise the investigation into Clark’s death, and that has helped to reduce tensions in the community to some extent. The final decision on whether or not to press charges, though, will remain at least for now in the hands of the local District Attorney, who is apparently awaiting the conclusion of the investigation before making a final determination. Given the outcome of this autopsy, though, it’s going to take something fairly convincing to keep the public calm if it is finally decided that charges are not appropriate in this case, especially since right now it certainly seems like something suspicious happened the night that Stephon Clark died.

 

FILED UNDER: Crime, Law and the Courts, Race and Politics, US Politics
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. KM says:

    Additionally, the revelation that the officers apparently muted the audio on their body cameras after the incident was over and they were discussing what happens is at the very least suspicious since those conversations are likely to be highly relevant in figuring out what happened. For some, of course, that act alone is a sign that the officers were seeking to come to an agreement on a version of events that painted them in a good light after they discovered that Clark did not have a weapon on him.

    There is NO excuse for muting the mikes. The entire point is to capture EVERYTHING – things that could be confidential such as names and faces of innocents can be blurred later. This is absolutely malfeasance on their part – not just one but multiple officers decided it would be a good idea mid-incident to interfere with evidence and obscure their actions. This alone should be jail time for everyone involved.

    Have they confirmed he was the one they were chasing? Was the muting them realizing they just shot a guy and aren’t sure if he was even the one? To hell with them figuring out he didn’t have a gun, did they figure out they didn’t confirm their target before they executed him and have a mass Oh Sh^t moment?

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  2. Gustopher says:

    Clearly, the suspect was aggressively backing up towards the officers, with a deadly weapon clenched in his butt crack.

    And it’s not suspicious at all that they muted their microphones. No, there’s some reasonable explanation for that too.

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  3. steve says:

    But Doug, somebody got shot in Chicago last week. First of all, anything that happens in Chicago is Obama’s fault, unless we can find some way to blame it on Hillary. Second, it really is unfair to hold police to a higher standard than gang members.

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  4. James Pearce says:

    The final decision on whether or not to press charges, though, will remain at least for now in the hands of the local District Attorney, who is apparently awaiting the conclusion of the investigation before making a final determination.

    One factor that makes charges unlikely: These cops were doing exactly what they were told and expected to do.

    This country needs better cops, I think. It’s vandalism. Gather evidence. Identify a suspect. Question him later. Why are they running into people’s backyards with guns out? It’s policework, man. Just do it.

  5. Jim Brown 32 says:

    Every department needs to have a published guidance on what should happen before discharging deadly force. We have it for soldiers in hostile countries….we can have it in America.

    Unfortunately policing is tainted by the same malady as the teaching profession, it’s the career of last resort for many. We rely on altruism of people that could be talented policemen to forego other professions where they could make more money under better conditions. Not enough are willing to make that sacrifice. We get what we pay for.

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  6. Mister Bluster says:

    Once again, a young African-American man who at the very least was unarmed and very well may have been innocent of any crime at all ends up dead at the hands of police.

    We know that
    Welcome to Donald Trump’s America.

  7. Mister Bluster says:

    I see that the edit function time has been reduced to not available.
    Disregard the partial phrase “We know that ” in the recent post.

  8. DrDaveT says:

    @Jim Brown 32:

    Every department needs to have a published guidance on what should happen before discharging deadly force.

    Once again, I vote for the standard that applied when I was a child, and that figured in so many western films: The Police Will Not Fire the First Shot.

  9. Jim Brown 32 says:

    @DrDaveT: Unfortunately the standard in Police culture is to avoid any risk at all costs…all in the name of going home at the end of the shift. Qualified Immunity…another SCOTUS turd…is what enables this culture. Shoot first figure it out later.

  10. Just 'nutha ig'nint cracker says:

    @KM: @Gustopher: Of course there’s a reasonable explanation for the mikes being muted. If they’re not muted, the Black Lives Matter folks are going to be able to say “See? It’s exactly the way we said it is.”

  11. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Jim Brown 32: Kill them all, let God sort it out.

  12. Liberal Capitalist says:

    @James Pearce:

    This country needs better cops, I think.

    No, we need better courts and “administrative reviews” that do not automatically favor the police officer.

    The overwhelming result of reviews of the most horrific shootings still result as “officer not at fault”

    Here is one of the recent examples: New Video: Cop Called Alton Sterling a ‘Stupid Motherf**ker’ After Killing Him.

    The Louisiana Attorney General’s Office declined to charge the officers this week, following the same decision by the Justice Department in 2017.

  13. george says:

    Add this to the recent list – the guy executed while crawling down a hallway begging the cop not to shoot him, the guy executed while coming to his door because of a Swatting calling. In both cases the cops got off.

    When do people decide American cops are killing too many people?

  14. James Pearce says:

    @Liberal Capitalist:

    No, we need better courts and “administrative reviews” that do not automatically favor the police officer.

    The cops are doing what is expected of them: being aggressive, defending themselves, trying to prevent crime. So I get why the courts and administrative reviews automatically favor the police officer.

    And honestly, that wouldn’t be a problem if we had better cops with better judgement. Don’t go kill a guy because some car windows got broken. Don’t shoot a guy because he’s selling CDs.

  15. Mikey says:

    This, and similar incidents, are in part another manifestation of the American gun problem. If we didn’t have so many guns, police wouldn’t have to believe their lives depend on the instant assumption any object held in a suspect’s hand is a gun.

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  16. An Interested Party says:

    It’s a pity that some cops, who seem to scared of everything, perhaps even their own shadows, don’t find another line of work that would be safer for them and save certain people from being needlessly murdered…

  17. Matt says:

    @Mikey: That’s absolute bullshit. Being a police officer isn’t even in the top 10 most dangerous jobs in this country. Car accidents are the leading cause of death and injury of police officers by a VERY wide margin and they know this. The real problem is that cops can get away with this behaviour. That’s why we see so many people shot by the police despite the people being obviously unarmed. That’s why even when footage of police planting a gun surfaces no one is charged. The system itself needs to be cleaned up and cops need to be held accountable for killing innocents. This is why police corruption is so bad. Cops just aren’t being held to the same standards as the “civilians” and the prosecutors/judges/etc are scared to actually hold the police accountable for their actions.

    Meanwhile in other countries with high gun ownership rates their police aren’t shooting people all the time like ours….. gee maybe it’s because their police are expected to take responsibility for their actions??

    Meanwhile apologists like you go “oh gee if only we didn’t have all these guns the police would be perfect angels”. You’re part of the problem.