Stephon Clark’s behavior in the days and hours leading up to his death played a prominent role in the Sacramento district attorney’s announcement about the case Saturday, and his family is outraged.
DA Anne-Marie Schubert said records from Clark’s cell phone showed he was searching the web for information about suicide, and that he texted the mother of his children about killing himself.
It’s unclear why the office brought those facts to light just before revealing that the officers who shot the 22-year-old in his grandmother’s backyard last March would not be charged.
His mother, SeQuette Clark, says the office is running a “smear campaign” about her son.
“Whatever he was doing, or on, whatever his character is or his actions prior to those police gunning him down, is no one’s business,” she said. “That’s not justification, that’s not a permit to kill him. “
She says the focus should instead be on why the officers used deadly force on a vandalism call.
Former Sacramento Police Chief Rick Braziel says Schubert may have been alluding to the concept of suicide by cop — situations where individuals who are intending to kill themselves, or would rather die than go to jail, provoke law enforcement officers into shooting them.
“I honestly thought ... when I was watching it she was going to talk about how he had planned that to occur, and it was suicide by cop, and that's not what she laid out,” he said.
The DA’s office would not comment on the intentions behind including the cell phone records and web search history in their announcement. An independent review on the case performed by a consulting firm shows that between March 17 and 18, Stephon Clark did research on multiple suicide methods.
The report contains an entire section defining “suicide by cop,” but the author doesn’t indicate whether Clark’s case should be classified that way.
The Clark family has never mentioned that Stephon Clark was contemplating suicide. In a January conversation with Capital Public Radio, his brother Stevante Clark said Stephon was dedicated to being a positive role model for his two children, and wanted to return to school with the ultimate goal of working with youth.
“He was just now fine-tuning himself,” Stevante Clark said. “And as soon as he started to get it right, his life suddenly stopped.”
Black Lives Matter leader Tanya Faison says Schubert bringing up suicide in relation to the case is problematic because it puts the blame on Clark. She compared it to the case of Michael Brown, an unarmed black man who was killed by police in Ferguson, Missouri, over an alleged robbery in a convenience store.
“There’s a lot of mental health issues in the black community, and it’s because of the things we go through and in the neighborhoods that we live in,” she said. “The fact that she mentioned it and that it happened two days prior ... it reminded me of Mike Brown when they tried to vilify him after and act like he should have been dead because of what happened at the store.”
Flojaune Cofer, an epidemiologist who focuses on community trauma, says investigations of officer-involved shootings often glaze over the mindset of the officers, and that the mention of suicide in the Clark case is a prime example.
“Police officers are overrepresented in domestic violence, we know that they are overrepresented in their own mental health issues,” she said. “This brings up some real questions about whether or not we got parity in the way that the evidence for this case was laid out.”
The family told reporters they would not march or protest in the aftermath of the decision, but would instead stay home to “mourn” and process the information revealed by the DA.