California Attorney General to Oversee Investigation Into Fatal Police Shooting of Stephon Clark

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Sequita Thompson (C), grandmother of Stephon Clark who was shot and killed by Sacramento police, cries as she speaks during a news conference with civil rights attorney Ben Crump (R) on March 26, 2018, in Sacramento. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

SACRAMENTO — The California Attorney General's Office on Tuesday joined an investigation into the fatal police shooting of an unarmed black man in Sacramento.

While announcing the attorney general's involvement, city officials and community leaders called for calm as Sacramento prepares for events memorializing 22-year-old Stephon Clark, where emotions will be raw and large crowds are expected.

Police Chief Daniel Hahn said he hopes the attorney general's decision will bring "faith and transparency," as California's capital city reels from Clark's death.

"Due to the nature of this investigation, the extremely high emotions, anger and hurt in our city, I felt it was the best interest of our entire community, including the members of our police department, to ask the attorney general to be an independent part of this investigation," Hahn said.

Two Sacramento police officers responding to a report of someone breaking car windows fatally shot Clark in his grandmother's backyard March 18. Police say they thought Clark was holding a gun, but he was found with only a cellphone.

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Attorney General Xavier Becerra's office will provide oversight of the investigation and conduct a review of the police department's policies and use-of-force training. Body-camera footage released by the department shows police firing 20 rounds at Clark.

The decision on whether to bring criminal charges against the officers involved remains with District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert, although Becerra said his office could also bring charges.

"Understand that this process will take time," Schubert said. "Thorough and fair independent review demands that we do it right."

Clark's grandmother, Sequita Thompson, called Monday for the police to change how they apply force in such situations and to consider nonlethal options.

"We fully expect that the attorney general's office will do a complete and thorough investigation that is fair and impartial — and that extends due process not just to those being investigated, but equally to the family of Stephon Clark," family attorney Benjamin Crump said in a statement.

Hahn said the two officers, whose names the department has not released, are facing death threats. He asked that protests remain peaceful as the investigation proceeds.

It is rare for police officers to be charged following a shooting and rarer still for them to be convicted. Often it's because of the doctrine of reasonable fear: If prosecutors or jurors believe that officers have a reason to fear for their safety, they can use force up to and including lethal force.

Black Lives Matter protesters hold candles during a vigil and demonstration on March 23, 2018 in Sacramento following the fatal police shooting of Stephon Clark.
Black Lives Matter protesters hold candles during a vigil and demonstration on March 23, 2018, in Sacramento following the fatal police shooting of Stephon Clark. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

On different occasions, protesters have taken over downtown Sacramento and the South Sacramento neighborhood where Clark was killed. At one point, protesters shut down the interstate during rush hour and blocked the entrance to a Sacramento Kings basketball game. The protests have largely remained nonviolent although tensions have been high. In one case, several protesters smashed a car window, according to the Sacramento Bee.

Black Lives Matter Sacramento is organizing more demonstrations Tuesday at the district attorney's office and at the city council meeting. The group says protesters are calling for Schubert to bring criminal charges against the officers who killed Clark.

The NAACP and the National Action Network said a two-hour funeral and burial for Clark is set to begin at 11 a.m. Thursday at St. Mary Cemetery & Funeral Center in Sacramento. The Rev. Al Sharpton, president of the National Action Network, is set to speak, along with other clergy.

The NAACP said a wake is set from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. Wednesday at Bayside of South Sacramento Church.

Mayor Darrell Steinberg urged the city to set a positive national example.

"The country is watching us," he said. "Let us show how a city in pain together, with all of our partners, can in fact achieve a better way."

This post has been updated.