Black leaders demand criminal charges against police officers who shot Stephon Clark

Flanked by a nationally known civil rights lawyer and leaders of Sacramento's black community, members of Stephon Clark's family demanded Monday that the two police officers who shot the unarmed Clark to death be held legally accountable.

Eight days after Clark's death put the city on edge, community leaders vowed at an emotional City Hall press conference to keep the pressure on the district attorney's office and others to bring criminal charges against the two officers.

Alice Huffman and Betty Williams of the NAACP said they have begun talking to the U.S. Justice Department's civil rights division about investigating the killing, after they failed to get a response from Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert.

"The DA didn't respond to us, and that gives us a leg to stand on" to contact federal officials, Huffman, head of the California NAACP, said in an interview afterward.

Shelly Orio, spokeswoman for the DA's office, said in an interview that Schubert's chief deputy Steve Grippi spoke to NAACP officials late Friday afternoon as well as Monday, and "we are in the process of setting up a meeting."

Grippi, in a prepared statement, added, “We are confident in our ability to fairly and ethically review law enforcement use of force cases in Sacramento County. At the same time, we are open to an independent oversight or evaluation by appropriate state or federal agencies if such assessment would enhance public confidence in the ultimate outcome.”

Huffman, addressing the press conference, called the Clark killing "a crime." She vowed the black community won't back down "until they stop gunning down our people like animals."

Florida civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump, who is representing Clark's family, said family members were about to view the 22-year-old's body "in preparation for an independent autopsy....No family should have to endure this pain and suffering as they try to seek answers for the execution of their loved one who was only holding a cell phone.

"We will stand up for Stephon, we will speak up for Stephon...until we get justice," said Crump, who also represented the families of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown – two victims of racially-charged killings who became household names.

A Sacramento County coroner's office spokeswoman said an autopsy was conducted last Tuesday and the body has been released to a funeral home. A report will be sent to the district attorney's office for its investigation, coroner's spokeswoman Kim Gin said. "If they file charges against anyone for the homicide, the report is not released until after the trial is adjudicated. If the DA declines filing charges, the report is released."

Williams, president of the NAACP's Sacramento branch, said she told Sacramento Police Chief Daniel Hahn that the NAACP is talking to the federal Justice Department about the case.

"He wasn't happy about it," she said. "But he didn't disapprove of it."

A Justice Department spokesman, Devin O'Malley, declined comment.

Speaking Monday afternoon to The Bee, Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg declined to offer an opinion on the idea of an outside investigation, but did not dismiss the possibility. "We ought to be open to the conversation, but I am not ready to make a conclusion," he said.

Steinberg said the city has asked Police Chief Hahn and District Attorney Schubert to attend a 5 p.m. City Council meeting on Tuesday and make a 10-minute presentation each on what their offices are doing to investigate the shooting.

The council will then turn the microphone over to the public for what Steinberg says is the start of a public discussion of where the city, the police and the community go from here.

For his part, Steinberg said he does not believe the shooting was a racist act, but he said the city must confront implicit bias in everyday life and in police and community relations.

“I do not believe that these officers or the Police Department are racist," Steinberg said. "However, implicit and structural racism pervades every aspect of American life, including education, law enforcement and public safety. And to talk about the tragic death of Stephon Clark without acknowledging that and viewing it through this lens would be wrong.”

Steinberg said the council will hold another hearing on April 10 to begin a more specific conversation with police, the community and experts about police training, police use of force and police pursuit policies.

"We are going to dive into these issues in a serious way, prior to the investigation, without prejudicing the investigation," Steinberg said. "We owe it to everybody to move fast, but be thorough and dig deep."

Steinberg pointed out that the city has already has taken steps to be more open and accountable, first by putting body cameras on police officers last year, and by changing its policy on releasing shooting video – from a no-release policy to a quick release in the Clark shooting.

Clark's grandmother, Sequita Thompson, also spoke at the Monday morning press conference in the City Hall rotunda, recounting in a barely audible voice how she looked out in her backyard and saw her grandson's body on the ground.

"They didn't have to kill him like that, they didn't have to shoot him that many times," she said, before she collapsed in Crump's arms and was led away. "My great-grandbabies don't have their daddy."

An emotional Sequita Thompson, left, speaks out at a news conference, asking for justice in the police shooting death of her grandson Stephon Clark with attorney Ben Crump at City Hall in Sacramento, Calif., on Monday, March 26, 2018. At right, Salena Manni, 22, Clark's fiancee and mother of his two small children, reacts. Renée C. Byer rbyer@sacbee.com

Moments later, Clark's brother Stevante Clark went to the podium and led a brief chant of Clark's name before walking out of City Hall.

Clark's shooting has sparked a series of protests. A march led by Black Lives Matter on Thursday forced the closure of Golden 1 Center before a Sacramento Kings game; the game proceeded with only about 2,000 fans in attendance. Two protests Friday turned occasionally volatile and violent, with marchers jumping on police cars, blocking downtown and midtown traffic and berating motorists. One person was arrested over the weekend for breaking a bus window.

Black Lives Matter said on Twitter that it plans to hold protests in front of the district attorney's office Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday afternoon, demanding that criminal charges get filed against the two police officers who shot Clark.

City Councilman Steve Hansen, who attended Monday's press conference, said he sympathizes with the protestors: "Their calls have to be answered for change and justice.”

Clark's funeral is scheduled for Thursday, with national civil rights leader the Rev. Al Sharpton scheduled to attend. Sharpton will deliver the eulogy "at the family's request," said the Rev. Shane Harris of the National Action Network, a civil rights group founded by Sharpton.

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