Lawsuit in Stephon Clark death seeks over $20 million from Sacramento, police officers

The long-expected federal civil rights lawsuit in the March 2018 Stephon Clark shooting was filed Monday and seeks at least $20 million from the city of Sacramento and the two officers who gunned him down in his grandparents’ backyard.

The suit, which follows an earlier claim against the city seeking at least $35 million in the slaying of the unarmed 22-year-old black man, comes as Sacramento officials are bracing for the release of a report by District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert on whether Officers Terrence Mercadal and Jared Robinet should face criminal charges in the incident.

The suit, filed in federal court in Sacramento on behalf of Clark’s minor sons, his parents and grandparents, alleges that the officers had no reason to use deadly force against Clark.

“Both Officers Terrence Mercadal and Jared Robinet did not give (Clark) a verbal warning that deadly force would be used prior to shooting (Clark) multiple times, despite it being feasible to do so and they did not issue appropriate commands to (Clark),” according to the 31-page suit filed by attorneys Dale Galipo, Brian Panish and Ben Crump.

“Further, the involved officers did not announce themselves as police prior to the shooting. (Clark) never verbally threatened anyone prior to being fatally shot by Officers Terrence Mercadal and Jared Robinet.”

The suit also blames the city for failing to properly train its officers in the use of deadly force.

“The training policies of the defendant city police department were not adequate to train its police officers ... with regards to using deadly force,” the suit claims. “As a result, city police officers ... are not able to handle the usual and recurring situations with which they must deal, including making contact with unarmed individuals holding a cell phone.

“These inadequate training policies existed prior to the date of this incident and continue to this day.”

Sacramento police declined comment on the lawsuit, which comes after months of demonstrations, protest marches and boisterous city hall meetings, and instead referred inquiries to the city attorney’s office.

City Attorney Susana Alcala-Wood issued a one-sentence statement: “Out of deference to the judicial process and because this is a matter of active litigation, we respectfully decline to comment.”

Sacramento Police Officers Association President Tim Davis declined comment, saying he had not yet seen the lawsuit.

Tanya Faison, a leader of Black Lives Matter Sacramento who has led many of the protests, said she was pleased that the suit had been filed.

“I hope that they win everything they deserve, everything that they’re pursuing,” Faison said. “We still need justice, we still need to see charges filed against the officers that killed Stephon.”

Faison, who has organized 44 weeks of protests that continue every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday outside Schubert’s office, said those efforts would continue until the district attorney’s report is issued.

Schubert and state Attorney General Xavier Becerra both said their offices would review the shooting, and Sacramento police turned over their internal investigation to Schubert on Oct. 25.

On Monday, Schubert’s office announced that its final report had been delayed by receipt of materials from the attorney general’s review.

“Two weeks ago, on January 16, 2019, we received further substantial investigative reports and related materials from the Attorney General’s Department of Justice investigators,” Schubert’s office said. “Our timeline for completion of our review has thus been delayed as we process the supplemental materials. We will take whatever time is needed to ensure a fair, thorough, and accurate review of this matter.”

Clark, a suspected car burglar, was being chased in the Meadowview area of Sacramento and ran into the backyard of his parents home. With a Sacramento sheriff’s helicopter hovering overhead and recording video, police officers went in after him.

Police have said the officers believed Clark had a handgun and opened fire; investigators subsequently determined he was carrying only a cell phone.

The city’s release of officers’ body camera videos, as well as the release of the helicopter’s footage, stirred widespread concern among community activists over why deadly force was necessary and why officers fired 20 shots at Clark.

The release later of an autopsy conducted for the Clark family by a private pathologist sparked more outrage when it determined Clark had been hit by eight bullets, six that were fired into his back. The county’s autopsy disputed that, determining he was shot seven times, three of the rounds striking him in the back.

The lawsuit seeks compensatory and punitive damages for unreasonable search and seizure, excess force, denial of emergency medical care, failure to train, wrongful death and other causes.

The suit claims the officers fired at Clark “as he was going to the ground” and “after he had already went down to the ground.”

“At the time of the shooting (Clark) posed no immediate threat of death or serious physical injury to either Officers Terrence Mercadal or Jared Robinet, or any other person, especially since he was unarmed and since he was going to the ground or already on the ground when he was shot, including multiple shots to his back,” the suit alleges.

Galipo, a Woodland Hills attorney who won a $6.5 million jury verdict against the Sacramento Sheriff’s Department in September 2017, said he had hoped negotiations with the city would have precluded the need for a lawsuit, but that they broke down.

“Early on, it seemed like there was some interest in resolution, but it appears they felt at this point that we were going to have to file a lawsuit, and that’s what we’ve done,” Galipo said, adding that there are no talks currently under way.

“The ball’s in their court,” Galipo said. “I would hope they would want to get this resolved, but if they don’t we’re fully prepared to litigate it and take the case to trial.”

Galipo said he believe an appropriate settlement could provide solace to both the Clark family and the community as a whole, and acknowledged that the continuing protests have placed pressure on the city. But he added that a jury trial is possible and that the $20 million figure mentioned in the suit and the $35 million claim are both minimum figures being sought.

“We’re not limiting ourselves to $20 million or $35 million,” Galipo said. “But, look, if the case settles we obviously would find a number everyone can agree on.

“If it goes to trial, the sky’s the limit as to what the jury could award.”

Federal civil rights lawsuit for Stephon Clark shooting

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Sam Stanton has worked for The Bee since 1991 and has covered a variety of issues, including politics, criminal justice and breaking news.