SACRAMENTO, California (AP) – Two Sacramento police officers won’t face criminal charges for the fatal shooting of a black man following a chase that ended in his grandparents’ yard and started a series of angry protests that roiled California’s capital city, the United States (US) top prosecutor announced last Saturday following a nearly year-long investigation.
Officers Terrance Mercadal and Jared Robinet acted within the law when they shot 22-year-old Stephon Clark seven times, Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert concluded, noting that the evidence supported their account that Clark was moving toward them when they opened fire.
Schubert said the evidence, including their reactions captured on body cameras, supported the officers’ statements that they thought Clark was pointing a gun. It turned out Clark was holding only a cellphone. His family and their supporters expressed anger and disappointment, and accused Schubert of unnecessarily revealing grim details of Clark’s personal life.
“Whatever his character is or his actions prior to those officers gunning him down, is no one’s business,” said Clark’s mother, SeQuette, who had a brief and contentious meeting with Schubert before the DA made her announcement. “It’s not justification. That’s not a permit to kill him.”
Schubert said the decision not to file charges against the officers “does not diminish in any way the tragedy,” adding that “We cannot ignore that there is rage within our community.”
Before Schubert had finished speaking, Black Lives Matter began a demonstration where about 100 people eventually protested peacefully in chilly rain outside Sacramento’s police headquarters.
The shooting last March prompted larger demonstrations. Protesters twice disrupted games for the NBA’s Sacramento Kings, including one where they blocked thousands of fans from entering. That game was played in a nearly empty arena.
Schubert repeatedly apologised for raising the personal details during her hour-long presentation.
She revealed Clark was facing possible jail time after a domestic violence complaint two days earlier from Salena Manni, the mother of his two children. He also had researched suicide websites including those that suggested using a tranquilizer, which was among several drugs found in his system after his death.
“I can’t tell ultimately what was going on in his mind,” Schubert said. “He was in a state of despair and he was impaired, and that may have affected his judgment.”
The disclosures brought additional outcries from protest leaders and Clark’s relatives, including Manni, who said they weren’t relevant to whether the officers acted properly.
The decision continues “the shameful legacy of officers killing black men without consequences,” Manni said.
Black Lives Matter leader Tanya Faison criticised Schubert for providing details including text messages between Clark and Manni.
“Those officers didn’t know any of that when they had him in the backyard and they killed him,” Faison said.
SeQuette Clark held out the hope that her son’s death would result in systemic change, which was echoed by statements from Governor Gavin Newsom, legislative leaders, Sacramento’s mayor and black religious leaders who urged protesters to channel their anger into positive steps.
“This is just the beginning. The fight for justice has just begun,” Clark’s mother said outside the home where her son was killed. Later, Clark’s grandmother, Sequita Thompson, was taken by ambulance to a hospital after falling ill. No details on her condition were available.
Several officials supported pending state legislation that would allow police to use deadly force only if there is no reasonable alternative, including non-lethal force or efforts to calm the situation.
Newsom did not address the bill, but called for “systemic reforms that reduce inequities, increase community confidence in our criminal justice system, and that reinforce the sanctity of human life.”