State report calls for over 40 changes at Sacramento PD in wake of Stephon Clark shooting

With two criminal probes and a $20 million civil-rights lawsuit pending over last year’s shooting death of Stephon Clark, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra released a new report Tuesday urging the Sacramento Police Department to adopt sweeping changes in its use of force training and dozens of other areas.

The 96-page report offers 49 recommendations for changes in department policies and comes after a request by Police Chief Daniel Hahn for the state to take an in-depth look at how his department handles shootings and other critical incidents.

“The Sacramento Police Department is not interested in being ‘good enough,’ ” Hahn said at a news conference with Becerra, Mayor Darrell Steinberg and Pastor Anthony Sadler of Sacramento’s Shiloh Baptist Church, among others.

The recommendations include:

clearly defining when an officer may use force against a citizen, improving on a written policy that Becerra’s team declared was too general and “overly reliant on the minimal, applicable legal standard.”

expanding the use of “de-escalation” tactics designed to prevent confrontations from spiraling into deadly incidents.

prohibiting officers from detaining suspects in a position that could interfere with their ability to breathe.

and barring uses of force against individuals who are not suspected of a crime or who are only challenging officers verbally, unless the incident poses a threat to the officer or a bystander.

Hahn requested the report in the weeks following the March 18 shooting death of Stephon Clark by two Sacramento police officers. Clark, an unarmed 22-year-old black man, was killed after fleeing officers into his grandparents’ Meadowview backyard.

Two officers fired 20 rounds at Clark, and police said at the time that they believed he was holding a handgun.

Clark was carrying only a cellphone, and his death spawned a series of massive protests that shut down rush hour traffic downtown, closed Interstate 5 and resulted in the lockdown of a Sacramento Kings game at the Golden 1 Center.

Regular protests are continuing as both Becerra and Sacramento District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert conduct independent criminal probes of whether the officers – Terrence Mercadel and Jared Robinet – should face charges.

Lawyers for Clark’s family members filed a federal civil rights lawsuit Monday seeking at least $20 million in damages for Clark’s death and alleging the police department failed to properly train its officers.

The criminal investigations by Becerra and Schubert both are expected to be released soon, and city leaders have been meeting with community groups in an effort to defuse tensions in the city.

Tuesday’s report is entirely separate from the state’s criminal investigation, Becerra said, and studied 18 officer-involved shootings – not including the Clark incident – that took place in the city from 2013 through March 2018.

Becerra’s staff conducted ride-alongs, site visits, studies of other cities’ practices and reviews of thousands of page of documents to focus on six areas: use of force policies, how uses of force are reported, use of force training, reviews of officer-involved shootings, procedures for filing complaints against police and community engagement.

A second report that will focus on non-deadly use of force, recruitment and prevention of bias, among other areas, is still in the works, Becerra said, noting that Sacramento police already have adopted a number of overhauls that include the use of body cameras on all officers, the public release of videos and improvements in its foot-chase policy.

“SPD has taken significant steps in this direction already,” Becerra said, adding it has room for improvement.

Specifically, Becerra said, the department needs to adopt more of a “guardian mindset” toward residents that emphasizes cooperation with officers when possible over police demanding compliance.

Steinberg said he welcomed the findings and hoped they would lead to Sacramento becoming a leader in law enforcement.

“We’re not going to try to huddle in the middle of the pack,” the mayor said.

Sadler echoed that sentiment, saying he hoped the recommendations in the report will lead to better cooperation between police and the community.

“We have to get rid of the ‘them versus us’ mentality and start thinking that we are one community,” he said.

Sacramento Police Officers Association President Tim Davis said Tuesday afternoon that he had not yet studied the report, but wanted the department to move cautiously.

“Anytime you talk about changing the policies on use of force it could endanger officer safety,” he said. “We need to figure out what works best for Sacramento and for the officers to protect their safety.”

None of the officials gathered Tuesday was willing to predict the department’s adoption of the recommendations would prevent another shooting like Clark’s, but they said they hoped the report would point toward continued improvements in policing in Sacramento.

“I will do whatever it takes to ensure people are safe in our community,” Hahn said.

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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.