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Under siege by Stephon Clark protests, Sacramento DA calls for patience

Under fire for her handling of the inquiry into the March 18 shooting death of Stephon Clark, Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert launched a public defense Wednesday, saying her office has not yet received the police investigation of the case and that it could take many months before her own investigation is complete.

“The reality is, is that what happened to Stephon Clark is a tragedy,” Schubert said in a news conference during which she outlined the steps she takes in investigating officer-involved shootings and noted she is not legally required to conduct such reviews.

The shooting of the unarmed 22-year-old black man by two Sacramento police officers has spawned national outrage, particularly over the fact that the gun police thought he was carrying turned out to be a cellphone and that a private autopsy found six of the eight bullets that hit him were fired into his back.

Street protests have continued for weeks in downtown Sacramento, and Schubert’s office at Ninth and G streets has been the target of regular demonstrations by activists asking that she charge the two officers who shot Clark. Schubert’s office has never found evidence that led her to prosecute an officer in a shooting.

Schubert noted her own office’s review of the case has not officially begun because the Sacramento Police Department is doing its own inquiry, which will then be turned over to her investigators to determine whether a crime was committed and if that can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

As part of the police investigation, the two officers who fired 20 rounds at Clark are interviewed by police with representatives of the DA’s office observing, Schubert said, but her office’s review of officer-involved shootings does not routinely include a separate DA’s interview of the police officers.

“They’re conducted by the police department, and we’re present for those interviews,” she said. “I think if there are additional things we would need for purposes of the criminal review we could do that.”

But, she emphasized, the police review and county coroner autopsy results have not been turned over to her investigators.

“The case is not in our office,” she said. “We have not started a review.”

Sacramento police had no estimate Wednesday of when the department's review would be completed and would not say whether the two officers had yet been interviewed.

Despite the fact that the police review is ongoing, Schubert has become the focal point of protesters who want the officers charged. Groups have begun loud vigils outside her building three times a week, some including loud speeches over bullhorns and barbecues prepared on charcoal grills just outside the office front doors.

A march from the office of Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who has launched his own review of the shooting, is set to begin at 9:30 a.m. Thursday at 13th and I streets and proceed to Schubert’s office, where protest organizers say 100,000 signatures from an online petition asking for charges against the police will be delivered.

Schubert said such protests “are not going to stop us from following our process.”

And she complained that in recent days the protesters' actions have evolved into harassment.

“I respect peaceful protests,” she said. “I do respect that.

“I think what's happening in the last week is anything but peaceful. I mean, if you were to see video footage of what’s happening behind our building, where people who are simply trying to leave to go home — whether it’s to pick up their children or wherever they need to go — and their cars are being surrounded and they’re being cussed at or blocked and having their license plates filmed. ... I think that’s not peaceful.”

Tanya Faison of Black Lives Matter Sacramento said Schubert’s claims that the protests are not peaceful is “false.”

"Yeah, we do block parking lots and we do block streets, but we’ve never been violent.”

Faison also said she was not concerned that Schubert’s office would not insist on interviewing the two officers.

“I don’t think that interviewing the officers is significant because they have already shown that they lied,” Faison said. “They turned off their body cams. They muted them, so I don’t trust the word of the police, especially if they’re the ones being accused of murdering someone.”

Black Lives Matter Sacramento leaders have lambasted Schubert and raised questions about police union contributions that flowed into her re-election campaign following the shooting, money that her campaign said had been planned long in advance of Clark’s death.

Schubert, seeking a second term as district attorney, faces a challenge from Sacramento prosecutor Noah Phillips, who said after the news conference that she was late in speaking publicly about the Clark shooting.

”My only comment is it’s 30 days too late, and quite frankly it’s about a year and a half late because she should have had a press conference like this when she made the decision not to file the Joseph Mann case,” Phillips said.

Phillips, who has a mailer out to voters criticizing his boss for the handling of the Mann and Clark cases, said he would reopen the review into the July 2016 police shooting of Mann, a 50-year-old black man killed in North Sacramento after neighbors reported him acting strangely and carrying a knife and gun. No gun was ever found.

Phillips said he wasn’t ready to say whether the Clark shooting should be prosecuted, but added that he does not believe Schubert is willing to take steps against law enforcement officers.

“We haven’t heard all the evidence yet, but I can tell you this: I will hold law enforcement responsible when the facts lead me to that conclusion. My opponent’s shown she is unable to do that.”

Schubert said she did not want to discuss campaign issues in the DA’s office. But she noted that a month before Clark’s death she asked the Attorney General’s Office for an opinion on whether a DA running for re-election has a conflict of interest in reviewing officer-involved shootings if they have received contributions from the police union representing the officer. She also asked whether the AG would take over an officer-involved shooting in such cases, she said.

The answer to both questions was no, she said.

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