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California Department Of Justice Will Independently Oversee Stephon Clark Shooting Investigation

Rich Pedroncelli / AP Photo

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, left, discusses his office's involvement of an investigation into the killing of Stephon Clark by two Sacramento Police officers, Tuesday, March 27, 2018, in Sacramento, Calif.

Rich Pedroncelli / AP Photo

UPDATED 2:03 p.m.

At a press conference Tuesday morning, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra announced that his team will join local law enforcement in investigating the Stephon Clark shooting.

“The California Department of Justice will now step in and provide independent oversight into this investigation into the shooting of Stephon Clark,” Becerra said.

Sacramento Police Chief Daniel Hahn explained that he asked the attorney general to help out, adding that the DOJ will have full access to and cooperation of his department.

Becerra also said the DOJ will conduct a separate review of the city’s police department’s policies and procedures.

The announcement comes after a week of protests and outrage over the killing of Clark, a 22-year-old black man who was shot in his grandparents’ backyard. Police officers were dispatched to South Sacramento on the night of March 18, after a 911 caller said he witnessed a man breaking car windows. A Sacramento County sheriff’s deputy in a helicopter says they witnessed a man in the backyard of a home breaking a sliding glass window. Officers pursued Clark and shot at him 20 times in the backyard.

Hahn says the DOJ's independent investigation will be similar to the oversight of the city's Department of Public Safety and Accountability. "I don't think these conflict with each other," he said. "I think that's another independent look at it. But, these folks are part of the investigation." 

Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert says she welcomes the attorney general providing “independence, assistance, and another layer of review.”

“I also understand there’s tremendous anger, there’s tremendous grief,” she said. “There’s also many that are distrustful of our system.”

After the press conference, Becerra responded to Capital Public Radio's question of whether his office should handle oversight of all police shootings in California. "I think at the end of the day, what people want is the confidence to know that the investigations were done in a way that lends a credibility to the process. What's the best course of action moving forward? We'll see."

Becerra said his office does not have the resources to investigate every police-shooting incident in the state, but that it legally could do so. "We have independent authority to go into to either try to investigate or — in this case — work with the local authorities to try to provide independent eyes," he said. 

Democratic Sacramento Assemblymember Kevin McCarty said after the meeting that this is not the first time the Department of Justice has offered oversight to a local investigation.

In 2009, the DOJ reviewd a Yolo County District Attorney investigation into the officer-involved shooting of Luis Gutierrez Navarro. No criminal charges were filed in that case.

McCarty has a bill in the Legislature that would require DOJ independent oversight of all officer-involved shootings in California. “It brings more independence, transparency and public trust in the process,” he said, “because now we have a system essentially where police are policing themselves.”

On Tuesday, McCarty's office sent out a press release calling for an independent unit within the DOJ to look at officer-involved shootings. Previous efforts to pass such policy failed in 2015 and 2017.

Activists with Black Lives Matter and other black community groups questioned whether the DOJ's involvement would make difference. 

Barry Accius, who works with black youth in the community, said community leaders on the ground protesting and working on the Clark shooting were not invited to this morning's press conference. He and local Black Lives Matter chapter founder Tanya Faison questioned whether DOJ oversight would make a difference.

"There's been federal investigations before of police killings, there's been state investigations before of police killings,"Faison said at a conference in the plaza in front of City Hall after the attorney general's meeting. 

Black Lives Matter and other groups say they will protest at Schubert’s DA officers this afternoon, and the next two days, demanding that the prosecutor charge the officers who shot Clark with murder.

The DA is scheduled to speak later today at a special city of Sacramento forum on the shooting.

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