Stephon Clarks’ grandmother recounts the night he was shot by Sacramento police
Stephon Clark was holding only his cellphone when he was fatally shot Sunday night by two Sacramento police officers who fired at him 20 times, the department said Tuesday.
Department officials on Tuesday offered more details about what happened in the moments before Clark, 22, encountered officers in the backyard of the south Sacramento home where he was staying with his grandparents.
Clark’s family members, meanwhile, flooded his grandparents' spacious, two-story stucco and brick house on Tuesday, demanding answers on what led up to the fatal shooting. His grandmother, Sequita Thompson, pointed from a living room window to the spot where Clark was found.
A few feet away in the dining room, the walls were covered with framed photos of family members, including Clark.
"He was at the wrong place at the wrong time in his own backyard?" Thompson said Tuesday. "C'mon now, they didn't have to do that."
Police arrived at the 7500 block of 29th Street at about 9:18 p.m. Sunday, responding to a 911 call that a man was breaking into vehicles, according to the department. A Sacramento County Sheriff's Department helicopter had also responded.
Deputies in the helicopter reported seeing a man armed with a "tool bar" in a nearby backyard and began to direct ground officers to that location.
The airborne deputies said they saw the man use the "tool bar" to break a window, which police later said was the rear sliding glass door in an occupied home on the 7500 block of 29th Street.
Police Tuesday said a cinder block and a piece of aluminum similar to what would be used in a rain gutter were recovered from near the broken door and taken into evidence, though neither item was definitely identified as the "tool bar" seen by deputies in the helicopter.
The resident at that house, Bill Wong, 88, Tuesday told The Bee that he was unaware of events as they unfolded Sunday night. He didn't hear or see how the window was broken or hear any gunshots, he said. The sliding door had been patched up by Tuesday morning.
"I came out, the police is here already," he said of the night. "They don't tell me (anything)."
Police said that after seeing Clark break Wong's window, the helicopter deputies observed him running south, where he jumped a fence into his grandparents' yard adjacent to Wong's house. He headed toward the front of the property, along the way looking into another car, police said.
On Tuesday, there was a black SUV and a gold Cadillac parked in Clark's driveway.
Clark had been staying with his grandparents in that home on and off for more than a month, his family said. He had been released from county jail about a month earlier, said his brother, Stevante Clark.
A search of Sacramento Superior Court records found four related cases for a Stephan Alonzo Clark. The most recent were two felony counts of domestic abuse, to which Clark – who preferred to go by the name Stephon – pleaded guilty and agreed to complete a treatment program. The court record also shows a 2008 robbery charge, and charges in 2013 for possession of a firearm and possession of a controlled substance.
Clark's family said their front doorbell was broken and family members would knock on the back window for entrance through the garage door.
Police entered the front yard of Clark's grandparents' house and saw him along the side of the house, according to the original department press release. Police said officers "gave the suspect commands to stop and show his hands," but that he "immediately fled from the officers and ran towards the back of the home."
It was there that police said they pursued Clark and where he "turned and advanced towards the officers while holding an object which was extended in front of him."
Police said officers believed the object was a gun and fired, "fearing for their safety."
No gun was found at the scene. Police later said that object was a cellphone. It was found near Clark's body and taken into evidence.
Thompson, Clark's grandmother, said the object was an iPhone. She said he was also found with a pair of headphones. Clark's girlfriend, Salena Manni, said the phone Clark held belonged to her. She said it was an iPhone 6 Plus in a rose gold-colored case with a black holder on the back to carry items like credit cards.
Department spokesman Sgt. Vance Chandler said each of the two officers involved in the shooting fired 10 shots, for a total of 20 shots fired. Chandler said he did not know how many times Clark was hit.
Clark was pronounced dead at the scene by Fire Department responders.
The two officers involved in the shooting have two and four years with the Sacramento Police Department, and each has an additional four years experience with other agencies.
Chandler said the on-scene investigation had been concluded by Tuesday, but the overall investigation would take longer. Typically, reviews of such officer-involved police shootings take months before a final report is issued. The incident will be investigated by homicide detectives and internal affairs, as is protocol, within the department. The internal investigation will then be reviewed by the city's Office of Public Safety Accountability, which will release a public report of its findings.
Video of the incident will also be released, in compliance with a city policy enacted in 2016 after the officer-involved shooting of Joseph Mann in North Sacramento. That shooting prompted a series of police reforms that included requiring all patrol officers to wear body cameras and to receive increased training in de-escalation techniques.
Mayor Darrell Steinberg on Tuesday said police Chief Daniel Hahn would expedite the release of video captured on body-worn cameras and dashboard cameras. In recent instances, the department has also released relevant audio as well.
Chandler said it would also include footage shot by sheriff's deputies from the helicopter. If so, it would be one of the first times Sheriff Scott Jones has agreed to release video.
A call to the Sheriff's Department to confirm it would release video was not immediately returned.
Advocates in the African American community have voiced concerns over the shooting and how the department will respond to it.
"This is a moment of truth," said community activist Berry Accius. Accius said that many community members are looking to the department to handle this incident with a greater degree of transparency than some feel past police shootings have received.
Hahn, who took over the department following the Mann shooting, has expressed a commitment to transparency and has on several occasions released police footage even though the department was not required to do so. Hahn has also spoken often to community groups about his desire to build trust between the department and communities of color through more collaborative policing and greater transparency.
Accius said some community members question if the shooting was excessive force and want to know "what led up to this young man being killed." He said the Clark shooting is being viewed as a defining moment by many on how far that transparency and accountability will go..
"This is the moment that I think a lot of us have been expecting," said Accius. "This is definitely where transparency, accountability and justice are really going to be put in full display with this new regime of policing. I think a lot of us in the community have been told there will be a whole other way of how the police in Sacramento police the community, especially black and brown people, and this will be the test."
For Clark's family, the concerns are more personal.
They are trying to raise money to bury Clark next to his brother, who was also killed by gun violence. Tuesday, a GoFundMe campaign had raised more than $4,000 toward that goal. Clark leaves behind two sons, 3 and 1 years old.
"They're asking, 'Where's Daddy, where's Daddy?" said Manni, the mother of Clark's children. "He was a part of our family. He was our rock."
Editor’s note: This story was changed March 24 to correct the spelling of Clark’s first name.