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Doctor defends private Stephon Clark autopsy as lawyers release photo of corpse

Note to readers: The Sacramento Bee chose not to publish the photo of Stephon Clark's corpse referenced in this story because we believe the photo's news value does not outweigh the impact of the graphic image. If you'd like to view the image, it is linked to in this piece.

The private pathologist who said Stephon Clark had been shot six times in the back by Sacramento police issued a full-throated defense Wednesday night, rejecting the Sacramento County coroner’s autopsy findings that he was wrong as “inaccurate.”

Dr. Bennet Omalu, a prominent pathologist hired by Clark’s legal team, released a black-and-white photo of Clark’s corpse with bullet wounds and said the county autopsy report that found only three bullet wounds in the back was wrong.

“Experts may have different opinions, but a picture is a picture,” Omalu wrote. “A picture does not have an opinion.”

Omalu’s statement is the latest in a dispute over what happened to Clark, an unarmed 22-year-old black man who was shot to death March 18 by Sacramento police responding to reports of a man breaking car windows in Meadowview.

Clark, who ran from police, was shot to death in the backyard of his grandmother’s south Sacramento backyard by two officers who fired 20 rounds after they thought they saw him with a gun, police said.

Police later determined Clark was unarmed and had been carrying only a cellphone, a finding that spawned repeated protests, demonstrations and marches in Sacramento.

Omalu, who came to prominence for identifying serious brain injuries in NFL players, was hired by Clark’s legal team to perform his own autopsy and found Clark had been shot six times in the back. He announced his determination in a March 30 news conference, and protesters quickly seized on the shot-in-the-back findings.

His report found that Clark had been hit first in the left side as officers opened fire, with the force of that bullet spinning him around and leading to his being shot six times in the back.

In total, Omalu found, Clark was hit with eight rounds.

In a dissent Tuesday, the Sacramento County coroner’s office released its own findings that Clark was struck seven times – not eight – and that he was hit in the back three times – not six.

That report, which was compiled and reviewed by five pathologists, sharply criticized Omalu’s findings and labeled them as “erroneous information.”

The dispute comes as the Clark family is expected to file a federal civil rights lawsuit over his death and as protesters have continued their campaign asking Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert to file charges against the two officers.

Omalu’s statement describes how he examined Clark’s body, initially finding him lying face-up on the autopsy table.

“My preliminary examination did not reveal any gunshot wounds on the anterior surfaces of his head, neck and trunk,” Omalu wrote.

The only gunshot he saw on the front side of the body was one to the thigh, he wrote, but then asked that the body be turned over “so I could examine the back of his body.”

“I discovered multiple gunshot wounds on the posterior surfaces of his neck, trunk, and right shoulder,” Omalu wrote, adding that he eventually took 138 photos of the body.

Omalu also criticized the county’s procedures, writing that Clark’s spinal cord had not been removed for study by the county, which performed its autopsy on March 20. He said such a procedure is difficult but “should have been done during the first autopsy performed by the County.”

“I stand firmly in defense of my independent autopsy of Stephon Clark and the prevailing autopsy findings,” Omalu wrote.

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