SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) – The fatal shooting of an unarmed black man by Sacramento police has roiled California’s capital city, leading to a protest that shut down a freeway and delayed an NBA game at the downtown arena.
Stephon Alonzo Clark, 22, died in a hail of police gunshots Sunday night in the darkened backyard of the home where he had been staying with his grandparents. Police say they thought he was pointing a handgun but they found only a cellphone nearby.
Here’s what’s known about the case – and what’s still unclear:
WHAT LED TO THE SHOOTING:
Sacramento police say two officers responded after 9 p.m. Sunday to reports of an unidentified man breaking car windows. Deputies in a Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department helicopter said they spotted the suspect and reported that he had picked up a toolbar and broken a window in a residence.
Two officers on the ground ordered the suspect to stop and show his hands, but he ran into a backyard of his grandparent’s home. Police say he turned and advanced toward the officers while holding an object in front of him.
The officers believed it was a firearm and feared for their safety, the department said. They fired 20 times.
The officers called for backup and waited about five minutes instead of immediately providing medical aid. Video recordings released this week seem to indicate they feared the suspect might still be armed and dangerous.
A responding officer told others to mute the microphones on their body cameras. It’s not clear why and the department hasn’t said whether that violated department policies.
Moreover, there is no evidence from the audio recordings that the officers identified themselves as police, said civil rights and personal injury attorney Ben Crump, who was retained by the Clark family.
THE FALLEN MAN AND THE OFFICERS:
Clark was the father of two sons, ages 1 and 3, and the fiance of Salena Manni.
“He was goofy, he was funny, he was loving. He liked shoes,” brother Stevante Clark told The Sacramento Bee . “He was a playboy, he was smart, he was an athlete, he was charismatic.”
Court records show he had several brushes with the law, none involving a firearm. Since 2014 he pleaded no contest to felony robbery, misdemeanor loitering with the intent to engage in prostitution and misdemeanor assault. He was sentenced to probation, a sheriff’s work program and was required to complete a batterer’s treatment program.
Sacramento police have declined to release the names of the officers involved in the shooting, saying they’ve been receiving death threats.
Police say the officers, one of whom is white and the other black, have two and four years of experience with the department, and both have four years of prior law enforcement experience with other agencies. They are on paid administrative leave.
Crump is best known for representing the families of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown, both young black men shot to death in racially tinged incidents in Florida and Missouri, respectively.
“We are looking into every aspect of this tragic killing, how this young man was executed in his backyard, especially in light of the fact that he had no gun,” Crump said. “He made no threats against the police.”
He said the police actions show poor training. He plans to meet with Clark’s family this weekend, and said the firm will do its own investigation including an independent autopsy.
THE POLICE CHIEF:
Sacramento Police Chief Daniel Hahn, the city’s first black police chief, promised transparency and to work for better community relations since he took charge last year. Mayor Darrell Steinberg praised Hahn for releasing the videos within four days of the shooting instead of the 30 days required by city policy.
Steinberg said the department has improved its policies since the fatal shooting of a mentally ill black man, Joseph Mann, in 2016. He said the City Council will address some of the public’s questions including the department’s use of force policies and training at a meeting April 10.