No Charges for Police in Stephon Clark Murder

*The Breakdown is The North Star’s daily analysis of an essential news story designed to provide historical context, go beyond the popular headlines, and offer a glimpse of where this story may be going next.

Key Facts: Nearly a year after the shooting death of Stephon Clark, an unarmed 22-year-old Black man, Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert announced that no criminal charges would be filed against the police involved in his death. Officers Jared Robinet and Terrance Mercadal shot and killed the father of two in his grandmother’s backyard.

At a press conference on March 2, Schubert questioned whether a crime was committed? “There’s no question that a human being died,” she said, “But when we look at the facts and the law, and we follow our ethical responsibilities, the answer to that question is ‘no.’”

The announcement sparked outrage and protests in East Sacramento as people took to the streets to demand justice for Clark. An “unlawful” gathering on Monday led to the arrest of 84 people, including two pastors and two journalists. Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg voiced his displeasure in a tweet, “I’m very disappointed the protest ended the way it did. I have many questions about what went on that precipitated the order to disperse and subsequent arrests.”

Schubert released the full findings of the investigation in a 61-page report. The Sacramento Bee noted that the Clark case is the “34th consecutive officer-involved shooting review that Schubert’s office has issued with a finding that officers acted legally.” Campaign finance records from last year show that the Sacramento County district attorney received $13,000 in donations from two local police unions in the days following Clark’s fatal shooting.

Historical Context: On March 18, 2018, the Sacramento Police Department responded to a 911 call in the Meadowview neighborhood after a caller reported broken car windows in the area and a suspect jumping into a neighbor’s backyard. With assistance from the Sacramento Sheriff’s Department helicopter, officers Mercadal and Robinet searched the location, followed Clark into the backyard of his grandmother’s home, and ordered him to show his hands. Video footage from the scene show officers saying, “Show me your hands! Gun!” before taking cover around the corner of the house and again shouting, “Show me your hands! Gun, gun, gun!” It took 4.5 seconds for the officers to fire 20 bullets at Clark, striking him eight times (six times in the back), according to an independent autopsy report requested by the victim’s family. Clark was unarmed at the time of this death. Police claim his white and pink iPhone was mistaken for a gun.

“We live in a home where our family member was murdered,” Curtis Gordon, Clark’s uncle said. “Where officers turned off their mics. Where they shot excessively, then reloaded, then waited several minutes and then handcuffed. And then announced time of death. We don’t want to live in that home.”

Beneath the Surface: Sadly, Clark’s isn’t the only unjustified death to earn widespread coverage in recent days and California has a history of lethal policing. On Friday, the San Mateo County district attorney announced it would not seek charges against sheriff’s deputies who tased Chinedu Okobi to death last October.

According to activist and data scientist Samuel Sinyangwe‏, “California has one of the highest rates of police violence in the nation and there is zero accountability for it,” he said. “Of 1,072 people killed by CA police from 2013-18, 99.7% of killings did not result in officers being held accountable by the criminal justice system.” What’s Next: Following Schubert’s announcement, California Governor Gavin Newsom released the following statement:

Our hearts continue to ache for the loss of Stephon Clark and the circumstances that led to his death…. 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.

Just last month, the California Attorney General Xavier Becerra released a 97-page report recommending the Sacramento Police Department update its use of force guidelines as part of its investigation into the death of Stephon Clark. Becerra emphasized “teaching officers to have a guardian mindset, meaning that officers emphasize communication over commands and cooperation over compliance.”

The US Attorney’s Office in Sacramento has plans to review both the county district attorney and the state attorney’s reports into the investigation of Stephon Clark’s death. The state’s legislature introduced AB 392, The California Act to Save Lives. Introduced by Assemblymember Shirley Weber of San Diego, the bill proposes that law enforcement officers avoid deadly use of force in favor of non-lethal alternatives when permissible.

About the Author

Ariana Rosas is an editorial assistant for The North Star. She is a writer and researcher based in Brooklyn. She has a background in social policy and is interested in social justice, human rights, and immigration.