Officers in Stephon Clark case shot for a reason


It’s been over a month since Sacramento District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert held a press conference regarding the March 18, 2018, officer-involved shooting of 22-year-old Stephon Clark.

If you don’t recall the shooting you must be one of those people who lead much happier lives by never watching the news, reading a paper or clicking on postings that show up in your social media feed.

A quick recap might be in order. Sacramento Police officers were dispatched to a call of a subject breaking car windows on vehicles in a neighborhood at around 9:10 p.m. The suspect fled into a back yard. A police helicopter and two uniformed patrol officers responded. The helicopter arrived first, just in time to observe Clark break through a sliding glass window and jump a fence into another back yard.

The patrol officers confronted Clark as he was walking back up the driveway toward the street. He was ordered to stop. Clark instead ran toward the back yard, with the officers giving chase. Turning a corner into the back yard, the officers hesitated in order to safely round the corner. Upon peeking around the corner one of the officers calls out “gun, gun.”

The officers round the corner and an officer-involved shooting occurs.

Clark is shot and succumbs to his wounds. No gun is located and instead the officers located a cell phone nearby.

The aftermath of the shooting resulted in days of public unrest and calls for the criminal prosecution of the officers.

The nearly yearlong investigation by the Sacramento Police Department and District Attorney was about as complete and thorough as any officer-involved shooting investigation I have seen. Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert conducted a press conference that was over an hour long presenting the results of the investigation as well as taking questions.

The final outcome was that the officers were not criminally culpable in the shooting. The investigation itself is a 62-page document along with body cam and helicopter footage. Expert opinion and analysis by subject matter experts on police use of force was also included.

Running a parallel investigation, the California State Attorney General’s office came to the same conclusion: No criminal culpability.

Protests occurred as a result of the findings. Apparently, the findings of the investigation didn’t pan out the way some people wanted them to. I doubt if many of them took the time to read the reports in their entirety or, for that matter, watch the complete press conference.

Rational assessment and critical thinking once again give way to emotional myth. In the eyes of many, the officers executed a young man for no reason.

Back when this happened, I wrote that the officers shot for a reason. They saw something we didn’t. Both officers in their interviews said Clark took what appeared to be a shooting stance. He is heard on the audio of the body cam yelling “f**k you” when told to put his hands up.

When the officers turned the corner and started to engage Clark was walking toward them appearing to have a weapon. But why would he do that? There are police officers pointing guns at him!

The investigators did their job and found out some things. Clark was looking at jail time as the result of a domestic disturbance with his girlfriend. Text messaging records showed a heated conversation with her in the days before. He was also found to have researched various ways to commit suicide on the internet.

Was this a victim-precipitated shooting? Did Clark want police officers to shoot him?

One publication cried foul with a headline reading, “Stephon Clark demonized to justify police murder.” The investigation would not have been complete with looking at the totality of circumstances and Clark’s possible mindset leading up to the shooting. While the conclusions can only be speculated, not to take those things into account would have been irresponsible.

The officers’ personnel records did not show anything that would have indicated they were rouge officers with a history of excessive force or, as some would describe them, “bad cops.”

But why was Clark breaking windows? Text messaging showed Clark requesting drugs from acquaintances. A cocktail of drugs including Xanax, oxycodone, THC, and alcohol was found in his system.

The officers in this case were responding to Clark’s behavior. There was no race issue and no malice displayed by the officers. There would have been no shooting if Clark had complied with the officers’ orders. The civil litigation is ongoing. The ruling of proper use of tactics and policy adherence is still pending.

This shooting has given political life to the move to change the standard to judge officer-involved shootings from reasonable to necessary force. I hope legislators take the time to read the findings of this case and then have a little bit of empathy and put themselves in the shoes of two officers just trying to do their job the best they can.