Stephon Clark. The name has become a symbol.
Protesters have shouted it in the streets, calling for racial justice. Legislators invoke it in their efforts to reform police deadly force laws. And Sacramento’s mayor devoted his State of the City speech last month to what that name says about a city’s need to become a better place for its residents.
But who was he? Family and friends say Stephon Alonzo Clark was a good kid from a rough background who loved his two young sons and had a special spark for life, but who yearned to be loved and sometimes felt abandoned.
Court records and a just-released district attorney’s report offer a view of a more troubled young man who on several occasions committed domestic abuse, served jail time and appeared to be in emotional trauma with suicidal thoughts in the days and hours leading up to his death.
Clark was shot to death by two Sacramento police officers who – responding to calls of someone breaking windows – confronted him in a darkened south Sacramento backyard on Sunday, March 18, 2018.
In a dramatic and detailed report issued Saturday, District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert said Clark allegedly had punched his girlfriend two nights before, on a Friday night, and feared his probation for previous battery convictions would be revoked, sending him back to jail or possibly to state prison.
Cellphone data show that Clark, 22, called his girlfriend, Salena Manni, 76 times the following day, the DA said. Manni, the mother of his two sons, texted him that she’d report him to police and that he’ll be “locked in a cage” the rest of his life and never see his kids grow up, according to cellphone screenshots obtained by the DA.
The DA said Clark then conducted internet searches Saturday on how to commit suicide.
Clark grew up in south Sacramento. His father was mostly absent. He and his siblings were raised by their mother and grandmother. When Clark was 10, his stepbrother, 16, died of an accidental, self-inflicted gunshot, according to coroner’s records.
Sonia Lewis, a relative by marriage, said the young man “yearned to be loved. He yearned for family. I think he felt abandoned at times.”
Friends say he had a spark. “He has always been a special person,” said Kiahre Rodriguez-Fuller. “He was meant to do something in this world, in some kind of way.”
He dressed stylishly, down to his sneakers. “He was goofy, he was funny, he was loving,” his brother Stevante told The Sacramento Bee. “He was a playboy, he was smart, he was an athlete.”
Clark attended Calvary Christian Center as a child, where his mother went through the drug counseling program. Pastor Phillip Goudeaux said Clark volunteered with the center’s youth program, where Goudeaux remembers Clark counseling a young “American Idol” aspirant to never give up on her hopes.
Clark attended Sacramento High School, where he played football. Assistant Principal Patrick Durant described him as “a friendly kid with great manners and a great smile.”
“He got an ‘A’ on every single test I gave him,” history teacher Paul Schwin said. “He always explained history in a funny, accessible way. He was someone who made first period fun.”
He left Sacramento High during his senior year and earned a high school diploma through an adult education program, Rodriguez-Fuller said. For a while, he lived with Rodriguez-Fuller’s family after having a fight with his mother. He thought about being a psychologist, and applied to San Diego State University, in part because Rodriguez-Fuller was in college in the area, but was not admitted.
He attended Sacramento City College in 2013, 2014 and 2015, officials there said. At that time, though, he began to run into trouble with the law. In 2014, records show, Clark was charged with robbery and assault and endangering the life of a child. He pleaded no contest and spent a year on a sheriff’s work project.
In 2015, he was charged with loitering with the intent to engage in prostitution after deputies stopped him and a woman while they were driving in North Highlands. He pleaded no contest. In 2016 and 2017, he was twice charged with domestic violence. In both cases, according to the DA’s report, the victim was his girlfriend Manni. In one instance, he allegedly hit her in the face. He spent 120 days in jail and completed a batterer’s treatment program, records show.
Family members and activists say Clark’s criminal past is irrelevant to what happened to him on March 18.
Family members have sued for at least $20 million, saying the shooting was wrong and inexcusable. “He was at the wrong place at the wrong time in his own backyard?” his grandmother Sequita Thompson told the The Bee two days after the shooting. “Come on now, they didn’t have to do that.”
That night, police responded to calls of a person breaking car windows in Meadowview. They confronted Clark and chased him into the backyard of his grandparents’ home, where they shot him.
Officers said they thought he had a gun. It turned out to be a cellphone.
At the time, Clark was living part-time at his mother’s Elk Grove home and at his grandparents’ home. He had recently converted from Christianity to Islam, which is Manni’s faith, friends said. He was applying for a job at a Sysco food warehouse.
He left behind two sons, Aiden, now 4, and Cairo, 2. “He was so proud of them,” Lewis said. On a Twitter account linked to Manni, a photograph last year showed her, Clark and their two boys. Beneath it was written: “Our babies will forever live in you. I love you my sweet angel. Watch over us.”
Manni has since moved with the two boys to the Los Angeles area, where she has family.