On March 18, 2018, Stephon Clark was unarmed and holding a cellphone in his grandparents’ backyard when Sacramento police officers fired some 20 bullets at the 22-year old black man, killing him. Now, more than 10 months after his death, Clark’s family has filed a long-awaited federal lawsuit against the city, arguing that police used excessive force and violated Clark’s constitutional rights.
The wrongful death lawsuit, which was filed on Monday, argues that Sacramento police officers Terrence Mercadal and Jared Robinet showed “reckless disregard for the rights and safety” of Clark and “acted with deliberate indifference” after the shooting.
The lawsuit also alleges that the officers failed to give Clark a chance to react because they did not issue verbal commands in the moments before the shooting. The officers also failed to provide timely medical care to Clark after the shooting. Body camera footage released last year showed that officers waited for more than five minutes before beginning to give Clark medical attention.
“The involved officers shot [Clark] even though he was not an immediate threat of death or serious bodily injury to the officers or anyone else and there were other less than lethal options available,” the lawsuit states.
Police initially said that a helicopter directed officers to Clark during a search for a person suspected of breaking into cars. Officers also said that they believed Clark was armed, but he was only holding a cellphone.
The lawsuit argues that the shooting was the result of Sacramento’s failure to properly train officers. Because of this, it states, Clark “suffered extreme mental and physical pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life and eventually suffered a loss of life and of earning capacity,” and his family has been deprived of “life-long love, companionship,” and financial support in the wake of the shooting.
The lawsuit, which was filed against the city of Sacramento and the two officers involved, includes Clark’s parents, grandparents, and two sons as plaintiffs. Clark’s family is seeking more than $20 million in damages.
The shooting drew national attention and has placed increased scrutiny on law enforcement agencies in Sacramento. The city has not yet announced if the officers involved will be charged for the shooting, fueling complaints from activists that city officials have dragged out the investigation with little explanation. With the filing of this lawsuit, the city will face increased pressure to release its findings.
It’s been almost a year since Stephon Clark’s death. Officials say they are still investigating.
The immediate aftermath of the Stephon Clark shooting saw a number of protests in the city as activists, community members, and members of Clark’s family called for the names of the officer involved in the shooting to be released and demanded that they face criminal charges.
The Sacramento Police Department conducted a criminal investigation into the shooting last year. In October, the department sent its findings to the Sacramento district attorney, who will determine if the officers will face criminal charges. The California attorney general’s office also conducted an investigation into the shooting and has sent its findings to the city district attorney.
Nearly one year after the shooting, the city still has not released the findings of those investigations.
With few answers, Clark’s family has fought to keep attention on the shooting. Just over a week after the incident, Clark’s family released the results of an independent autopsy they had ordered. That autopsy found that Clark had been shot eight times, including six times in the back. Authorities argued that the family autopsy was “erroneous,” and the county coroner who oversaw the official autopsy said that Clark was struck seven times, including three in the back.
The Clark shooting prompted Sacramento to enact new police reforms, and the city adopted a new policy discouraging foot pursuits. The changes were created to remind officers “what they’re supposed to think about, what they’re supposed to weigh anytime they get into a situation when they’re chasing after a suspect,” Sacramento Police Chief Daniel Hahn said last year.
But local activists argue that these changes are hardly enough and that the city must prosecute the officers who shot Clark. “Once they see they can lose their job and pension and can go to court and be treated like every other citizen,” Tanya Faison, the founder of a Black Lives Matter chapter in Sacramento, told the Guardian, “then police officers might stop shooting us.” Faison added that there have been other police shootings since Clark’s death, highlighting the urgent need for changes in the city.
In the months since the Clark shooting, activists have expressed frustration that the police officers still haven’t been charged, and protesters continue to gather at the office of District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert several times a week. In October, the Sacramento Police Department submitted the findings of its investigation to Schubert’s office, which said it planned to finish its review within 90 days. On Monday, Schubert’s office announced that it had received additional materials from the state attorney general earlier this month.
“Our timeline for completion of our review has thus been delayed,” the district attorney noted in a statement. The office is expected to announce its decision in the coming weeks.