Sacramento County’s top prosecutor received $13,000 in campaign donations from two local law enforcement unions just days after Stephon Clark was killed by Sacramento police who shot the unarmed African American man, campaign finance records show.
The unions and Anne Marie Schubert’s camp call the donations’ timing less than a week after Clark’s death on March 18 an unfortunate coincidence. Clark, 22, was shot in the backyard of his grandparents’ south Sacramento home after police mistook the cellphone in his hand for a gun.
But activists – many of whom have repeatedly called on Schubert to file criminal charges against the officers – are blasting the cash received on March 20 and March 23 as another sign of collusion between prosecutors and police unions. Schubert’s office is reviewing Clark’s shooting for criminal violations.
“It’s not an exception to the rule – it is the rule. Their relationships with each other are incestuous,” said Cat Brooks, executive director of the Oakland-based Justice Teams Network, whose Anti Police Terror Project advocates for policing reforms and joined Sacramento protesters on Wednesday. “So the public perception is right. (DA’s offices) are beholden to law enforcement unions. You can’t engender trust when those relationships are so tightly wound.”
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra last week said his office will oversee the investigation into Clark's death.
Teri Cox, spokeswoman for the 7,000-member California Statewide Law Enforcement Association, or CSLEA, said its $10,000 donation to Schubert’s campaign March 20 was in the works weeks before the deadly shooting. Cox said her organization’s political action committee received a request from the Schubert camp for more campaign cash on March 5 and dismissed any connection between the fatal shooting and the PAC’s political contribution.
A January event co-hosted by CSLEA and a pair of endorsement videos produced for Schubert’s re-election bid that launched Feb. 6 and Feb. 21 preceded the Schubert camp’s March 5 request, Cox said.
By the time the PAC’s donation was requested, considered, approved, and showed up in the Schubert campaign’s coffers, it was March 20.
“There was no timing involved. We’ve been for (Schubert) from the very beginning,” Cox said. “It’s unfortunate that the check had to happen at that time.”
Indeed, CSLEA has been a reliable Schubert supporter, contributing nearly $78,000 to her campaigns since 2013, including an earlier $10,000 donation in December, according to California secretary of state elections data.
Schubert campaign manager Dave Gilliard said the district attorney had also secured a $3,000 donation from the Sacramento County Alliance of Law Enforcement following a candidates’ forum in late February or early March and sponsored by the local union, saying the timing of the four-digit donation on March 23 less than a week after Clark’s death “appears to be a coincidence.”
Mary Beth Moylan, a law professor and elections expert at University of the Pacific McGeorge School of Law, said "most unions and political committees are not making spur-of-the-moment decisions regarding donations of those amounts."
SCALE, the Sacramento County Alliance of Law Enforcement, which represents the county district attorney’s and public defender’s offices along with Sacramento County sheriff’s rank-and-file and employees in four other county departments, did not return calls asking for comment.
But Schubert, Gilliard added, is “proud to accept donations from the law enforcement community. She works with them every day.”
There are natural relationships between law enforcement and prosecutors that lead to the political contributions, said Brian K. Landsberg, professor emeritus at University of the Pacific McGeorge School of Law in Sacramento.
“It’s legal as long as there’s no deal for quid pro quo. Police (groups) can say they have a general interest in law enforcement and that they want a district attorney who is strong on law enforcement,” Landsberg said.
But that suspicions of those relationships continue to fester is no surprise amid the tension and mistrust that has simmered since Clark’s shooting, Landsberg said.
“We are in a period of heightened suspicions, so people who are already suspicious of police and the district attorney – this will feed their suspicions, rightly or wrongly. That’s just inevitable,” Landsberg said. “Unfortunately, we’re in a period right now where there is distrust in a whole section of the community. This will feed that distrust.”
“The issue of donations for district attorneys is an ongoing issue in many places,” he continued. “Under the law as it is now, this is really a policy question – the whole question of how we finance our campaigns – but it is heightened when we’re talking of the DA. The DA is the decision maker.”
The controversial police shooting turned Sacramento into the latest epicenter of the national debate on law enforcement’s use of deadly force in African American communities in the wake of deaths from St. Louis to Chicago, Baton Rouge and Cincinnati, to South Carolina, Baltimore and Oakland.
Clark’s death also is quickly becoming a focal point in Schubert’s bid to keep her seat as the county’s top prosecutor with an election contest against reform-minded county prosecutor Noah Phillips.
Local activists, including Black Lives Matter’s Tanya Faison, say Sacramento’s Community Police Review Commission should be given expanded powers to investigate Clark’s killing.
On Thursday in a statement ahead of another planned protest in front of the district attorney’s G Street offices, Faison again called for Schubert to file criminal charges against the two officers. For days, hundreds of demonstrators have massed in front of the DA’s downtown offices in protest.
“Anne Marie, do your job and charge these officers,” the statement read. “Real justice looks like police getting fired, charged and convicted.”
In the shooting’s aftermath, protesters took to downtown streets, City Hall and Schubert’s offices, blocking traffic and disrupting motorists and transit. Community leaders, clergy and NBA players have called loudly for change, action and accountability at rallies, while Clark’s name and story have become national symbols in the call for police reforms in the wake of the killing of another unarmed black man by law enforcement.
A private autopsy report by Dr. Bennet Omalu, the former San Joaquin County chief medical examiner best known for his research on football-related concussions, revealed Clark was shot eight times by the officers, including six times in the back.
The Bee's Diana Lambert contributed to this report.