It’s been a week since local and state prosecutors announced they would not be filing charges against the police officers who fatally shot Stephon Clark — and we’ve received all kinds of questions.
Last week we asked you what you thought about the case and what it means for Sacramento moving forward. People called and left messages, wrote in with questions and reached out to us on social media.
Some wanted to know about the civil case, in light of the district attorney’s decision. And others had bigger-picture questions about the shooting and changes to police policy.
Here are the answers CapRadio has tracked down so far. As we continue to report on these issues, we’ll add what we learn to this page.
Q: “Can the civil courts provide some remedy for Stephon Clark's family?”
Francisco asked about whether Clark’s family can seek compensation for his death in a civil suit, and the answer is yes. In fact, family members have already filed a federal wrongful death lawsuit blaming the city of Sacramento and two of its officers in the March 2018 shooting.
The lawsuit accuses the officers of excessive, unreasonable force and other civil rights violations, but also claims the city did not give its officers proper instruction, such as how to engage in a pursuit of a suspect.
Clark’s mother, grandmother, uncle and children are seeking more than $20 million in damages.
According to the New York Times, "the vast majority of families who lose someone in a questionable police shooting get nothing." Many cases are dismissed before trial. Settlement offers comes when the city’s chances at trial “are not good for a variety of reasons, including the culpability of the officer, the degree of sympathy for the victim, the amount of publicity surrounding the death and whether the episode was captured on video,” the Times reports.
Q: “If Stephon was advancing as the DA states, then why did the autopsy report say that Stephon was shot in his side and back?”
Barbara had questions about the Clark family’s independent autopsy report, and why its findings were different from those presented by District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert.
There were two autopsies conducted — one by Sacramento County coroner Dr. Keng-Chih “Kenny” Su and one by Dr. Bennet Omalu, a UC Davis physician hired by the family. Omalu is famous for his research on head injuries in contact sports — represented in the movie “Concussion” starring Will Smith. The two doctors came to different conclusions about how Clark was shot and killed.
According to the Sacramento Bee, the county coroner asked five pathologists to review Su’s autopsy report "in light of the erroneous information that was released from the private autopsy."
Dr. Gregory Reiber, a forensic pathologist with Placer County, was one of those who reviewed the county’s autopsy. He said Omalu’s autopsy mistook an exit wound as an entrance. “This is a significant error,” Reiber wrote, “as it leads to incorrect conclusions regarding the relative positions of the victim and shooters during the event.”
Reiber said the county’s findings “do not support the assertion that Clark was shot primarily from behind.”
Omalu told CapRadio that “the two autopsies performed by two different doctors should not be exactly the same,” adding that there were changes to the body and exit wounds during the first autopsy that impacted the second.
He said that people should not consider “either-or” when coming to conclusions on how Clark was killed. “You should use both” autopsies, Omalu said.
Omalu questioned the outside review, telling The Bee, "I find it extremely unusual that an outside doctor is reviewing an autopsy report and is coming out to state (I) am wrong.”
Q: "In the one year since Stephon Clark's shooting death, what changes to Sac PD training, policies, procedures or oversight have been made?"
Ron from Sacramento wanted to know what changes the Sacramento Police Department has made since Clark’s death on March 18, 2018.
Less than a month after the shooting, the department changed its policy regarding the muting body cameras. The officers who shot Clark turned off the sound on their cameras shortly after the shooting as they talked with fellow officers. Officers now are not allowed to mute their body cameras unless a supervisor allows it.
The department also changed its foot pursuit policy in the wake of the shooting, as Police Chief Daniel Hahn told Insight host Beth Ruyak. Under the new policy, Sacramento officers must consider their own safety, danger to the public and suspect, and the importance of making an arrest before following a suspect. Officers must start their body-worn cameras and broadcast why they are beginning the chase, including a description of the suspect. Pursuing officers or their supervisor can break off pursuits at any time "if the risk of pursuing outweighs the need for apprehension."
In addition, the California Department of Justice reviewed the Sacramento police’s use-of-force-related policies and in January 2019 and recommended more than 60 reforms. The department’s responses to those recommendations can be found here.
Q: "Are records kept to track officers involved with shootings and is it public information?"
Yes. Under California law, police chiefs and sheriffs must provide the Department of Justice with a report of use-of-force incidents each year. And the DOJ must track and report that data.
But actual police department records of use-of-force incidents have not been publicly available until this year.
Last week, the Sacramento Police Department fulfilled public records requests pertaining to the Clark case, releasing hundreds of pages of redacted records.
Q: "Do the shooting officers still patrol for Sacramento Police Department?"
The two officers who shot Clark, Jared Robinet and Terrence Mercadal, returned to work 90 days after the shooting, but “for safety reasons, they are not working in a patrol capacity due to continued threats received,” a department spokesman said.
Sacramento Police Chief Daniel Hahn told Insight With Beth Ruyak his office and internal affairs would make a decision about the officers' actions and employment once Attorney General Xavier Becerra concluded his investigation.
“We get their results and their review and then we take that into consideration as part of our final review. So, that's the only step left in our internal review,” Hahn said. Becerra’s report was released the next day.
Hahn said police policy is often more strict than what the law covers, so the department's outcome could be different than what the DA an AG’s offices concluded. In the event Hahn decides to terminate the officers, he would send that request to City Manager Howard Chan, who would have the final say.
When asked if he thought the officers could effectively and safely be put back on patrol, Hahn said: “Well I think that's a distinct possibility and yes I do.”
We’re still working to investigation additional questions related to the Stephon Clark shooting. What do you want to know? Ask below.
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