Video Shows Sacramento Police Shooting Unarmed Black Man in Grandparents' Backyard
A still from police helicopter video footage of the officer-involved shooting of 22-year-old Stephon Clark on Sunday in Sacramento. (Screengrab by NPR/Sacramento Police Department)
Sacramento police officers shot and killed 22-year-old Stephon Clark, a father of two who was unarmed, in the backyard of his grandparents' home on Sunday night.
"The only thing that I heard was pow, pow, pow, pow, and I got to the ground," Sequita Thompson, Clark's grandmother, told The Sacramento Bee. "I opened that curtain and he was dead."
A police department statement says: "Prior to the shooting, the involved officers saw the suspect facing them, advance forward with his arms extended, and holding an object in his hands. At the time of the shooting, the officers believed the suspect was pointing a firearm at them. After an exhaustive search, scene investigators did not locate any firearms. The only item found near the suspect was a cell phone."
Clark was pronounced dead on the scene by personnel from the fire department.
On Wednesday, the Sacramento Police Department released video and audio of the incident: body camera footage from the two officers involved in the shooting; video from the police helicopter that directed the officers to Clark; audio of the initial 911 call reporting a man in a hoodie breaking car windows; and audio from the police dispatch.
Taken together, the audio and video paints a portrait of an incident that moved heartbreakingly fast and then achingly slowly.
The recordings begin with a man calling 911 to report a man in a hoodie and dark pants breaking car windows. The officer in the helicopter spots Clark running and walking through backyards, and tells officers on the ground that the suspect has just used a "toolbar" to break the window of a residence.
With direction from the helicopter officer, the officers on the ground follow and confront Clark.
In a dark backyard lit only by what appear to be gun-mounted flashlights, the officers' body camera footage shows what happened next.
"Show me your hands — gun!" the first officer yells. A few short seconds later he yells, "Show me your hands! Gun! Gun! Gun!"
The second officer begins firing multiple shots. Then the first officer begins firing, too — they fire about 20 shots in all.
Hidden by tall grass and the darkness, Clark's body isn't visible, but there are no signs of movement.
The first officer yells again, "Show me your hands!" and the other adds, "Let's see your hands."
"He's down, no movement," the second officer tells the dispatch. "We're going to need additional units."
"You all right, you hit?" says one officer. "Yeah, I'm good," the other officer replies.
The first officer reloads his weapon.
"He's still down, he's not moving," the officer says. "We can't see the gun."
Backup units arrive on the scene.
"He came up, and he kind of approached us, hands out, and then fell down," the first officer tells one of the new arrivals.
The two officers who fired their weapons continue to hang back, holding position, occasionally yelling that they need to see Clark's hands.
The second officer tells someone that the suspect had "something in his hands, looked like a gun from our perspective."
For more than five minutes, the two officers are seen standing behind the corner of the house with their weapons drawn.
When they finally approach the man they shot, one of the officers handcuffs Clark's lifeless body.
"We're going to need CPR stuff," he says. The officers put on gloves and talk about going to get a rescue mask.
Then officer one says "Hey, mute?" and the video's sound clicks off. The last two minutes of the video are silent.
The two officers involved in the shooting have been placed on paid administrative leave. The officers have been with the department for two and four years, respectively; both had four years' prior law enforcement experience with other agencies before joining the Sacramento force.
The Bee reports that before police released the videos to the public, they first showed them to Clark's family:
"Allowing family to see such videos before they are released to the public is part of a city policy adopted in late 2016 by the city of Sacramento after the fatal shooting by police of Joseph Mann, a mentally ill black man. Mann's shooting led to major reforms in the department, including a requirement that all patrol officers wear body cameras.
"The reforms also require police to release videos in 'critical incidents' such as officer-involved shootings and deaths in custody within 30 days of the event. Sacramento police Chief Daniel Hahn, the city's first African American chief, has been releasing videos more quickly than the requirement and for a broader range of events than covered by the new law since taking over the department last summer."
The videos of the last minutes of Clark's life have sparked questions in Sacramento and online, about how the police handled the situation — and how they might have thought Clark had a gun.
"The object ultimately determined to be what police saw in Clark's hand was a cellphone his girlfriend and mother of his two children, Salena Manni, had loaned him," the Bee reports. "It was in a rose gold-colored case with a black clip on the back for holding items like credit cards, she said."
There is also a debate over what possible repercussions the two police officers might face.
Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg released a statement on Wednesday evening.
"I viewed the videos carefully," he said. "Based on the videos alone, I cannot second guess the split-second decisions of our officers and I'm not going to do that."
"The questions raised by the community and councilmembers are appropriate and must be answered during the investigation," he continued. "For instance, what are the protocols regarding use of force and for rendering emergency aid during officer involved shootings?"
Sacramento police say additional video and audio will be released soon.
"This is an unfortunate moment," community activist Berry Accius told the Bee. "This moment is probably going to set us back. ... We got transparency. Now we need accountability. We can't get that young man back."
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