Activists and protesters have criticized the Sacramento Police Department for putting out what they say was inaccurate news in the days after the shooting of Stephon Clark. Or, as protester Vanessa Cullors said on Thursday, "Where was the gun at?”
She’s talking about reports that the two officers who shot Clark last Sunday night because they thought he was in possession of a firearm. Media outlets have reported this as an official police statement, in addition to the news that Clark allegedly broke a window with a “tool bar” minutes before the shooting.
Police Chief Daniel Hahn told Capital Public Radio on Friday, however, that his department isn’t to blame for bad info. During an interview with Beth Ruyak, the chief discussed the Clark shooting and said that he never possessed a firearm.
“We never said he had a gun. We never said he had a tool bar,” Hahn told Ruyak.
“If you look at our press release and our updates, they never said any of those things,” the chief added.
Capital Public Radio reviewed the department’s two press releases from March 19, the day after Sunday night’s shooting. In the police’s initial media advisory — a document that includes Hahn’s name and title in the upper-left-hand corner — it states that “officers believed the suspect [Clark] was pointing a firearm at them.”
The same news release also reports that a Sacramento County Sheriff’s helicopter had “advised” police that Clark “had just picked up a tool bar and broke a window to a residence.”
In the interview, Ruyak pressed the chief on who should be held responsible for starting the gun and tool bar rumors.
“I’ll let you be the judge of that,” Hahn said.
“What are you suggesting?” Ruyak countered.
“It wasn’t us,” the chief responded. “We never said to the media that he had a gun.”
Listen: Beth Ruyak interviews Sacramento Police Chief Daniel Hahn
Hahn’s conversation on Insight with Beth Ruyak comes the day after large protests gripped Sacramento. Demonstrators spilled into the streets, shutting down traffic on a downtown freeway and denying Kings fans entrance to last night’s game at the Golden 1 Center.
The chief told Ruyak that he has a lot of the similar questions as protesters, including whether the use of deadly force was appropriate. “You can’t shoot somebody or use deadly force because someone doesn’t do what you tell them to do,” he said, adding that officers must feel someone’s life is in danger to use such force.
There’s also the question of why officers fired at Clark 20 times. Hahn said it does “seem excessive,” but says investigators will determine if it violated police guidelines. “In the heat of a shooting ... there’s all sorts of factors that go into that,” he said.
The protests emerged after the department released video footage on Wednesday from police body cameras and a sheriff’s helicopter. Hahn says he stands by the decision to put out the videos to the public days after the shooting. “I believe it’s important that we get the facts out as much as we can,” he said.
“There’s nothing better than seeing it with your own eyes,” Hahn said.
Hahn also said that there will be “a lot more” video from the night of Clark’s shooting released next week.
Additional video from the Sacramento County Sheriff’s helicopter showing footage from earlier in the night will not be coming, however, as Hahn says the released footage is from when the pilot started recording, moments before the shooting occurred.
Investigators will also look into why in some parts of the police body camera footage, the audio is muted, he added.
“Possibly we need to drastically change our training when it comes to muting body cameras,” he told Ruyak.
Hahn says Clark’s death is a tragedy that shows there is much work to be done to improve police relations. “Our city is in crisis,” he said. “We have to get better, not just window dressing, but truly get better.”
Clark was killed by police officers who were responding to a call about a man breaking car windows on the 7500 block of 29th Street in South Sacramento. The sheriff’s helicopter directed officers on the ground to Clark. They confronted him in his grandparents’ backyard and fired at him 20 times after one of the officers shouted “gun, gun, gun.”
Hahn said that he “didn't know what the protest would entail, about getting on I-5 and things like that, but that he “knew emotions were high.
“I knew there would be a protest and that won’t be the last.”
The chief urged calm. “I don’t want anybody else to get hurt,” he said.
There were no arrests during Thursday’s demonstrations. “I think in the grand scheme of things, it went OK,” he said, adding that the country has a “rich” history of civil disobedience.