Salena Mohamed Manni didn’t ask for the spotlight, but that’s where she finds herself after Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert’s press conference Saturday announcing the police officers who fatally shot her boyfriend Stephon Clark won’t face criminal charges.
Manni’s tumultuous relationship with Clark, the father of her two young children Aiden and Cairo, was highlighted throughout the press conference as Schubert explained Clark’s state of mind the night of March 18. He was shot in his grandparents’ backyard that night by two Sacramento Police Department officers who mistakenly thought he was holding a gun, kicking off weeks of high-profile protests throughout the city.
When Texas Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee paid tribute to Clark before Congress on April 5, she talked about how he loved to watch football and Netflix shows with Manni. The two had met five years prior to his death and planned to get married, Manni said in an April 2018 interview on The Intercept podcast “Deconstructed.”
Manni grew up in a two-parent household, she told “Deconstructed” host Mehdi Hasan, while Clark grew up staying with his mother, his grandparents and high school friends at different points in time. She wanted to give their kids what she had growing up; he wanted to give them what he lacked, she told Hasan.
“We made sure our love was strong for our kids,” Manni said. “Our bond was strong for our kids. We were just happy as a whole. As long as we were together as a family, there was nothing that can break us. We were inseparable.”
Schubert’s report on Saturday, however, painted a contrasting image of their relationship. Manni was a repeated victim of domestic violence at Clark’s hands, even up to the nights before he was killed, according to Schubert’s report.
At about 12:47 a.m. on March 1, 2018, one of Manni’s neighbors called 911 to report that a man had dragged a woman down a hallway in the apartment she shared with Clark. When police arrived, the neighbor told them he had knocked on the apartment door after hearing a woman scream for help. Looking through the window, he saw a black man straddling a black woman on the floor while holding her arms down and yelling in her face, all while a small child cried next to them, according to Schubert’s report
Officers knocked on the apartment door, and Manni and Clark emerged after after a significant delay. They denied arguing, and with no visible injuries and no signs Manni had been crying, the officers left the apartment.
Shortly before midnight on March 16, another neighbor called police about Clark and Manni. Clark was gone by the time they arrived, but Manni spoke in an interview recorded on a responding officer’s body camera.
Clark had hit Manni four or five times in the face, she told police, sometimes with an open palm and sometimes with a closed fist. He threw her head against the wall and choked her with both hands, she said. Police later found a hole in the wall three inches in diameter with long, dark hair coming out of it.
Manni hid in a closet, crying, for about 10-15 minutes before Clark came into the closet and took her to their bed, she told police. When she refused to respond to him, he allegedly started hitting her again and calling her derogatory names. She escaped the apartment as Clark went to get some clothes and asked the neighbor to call police.
The left side of Manni’s face was swollen, particularly around her eye, cheekbone and lip, and she was crying and breathing heavily, according to the report. She also told police that she had lied to them about the fight earlier that month in fear of Clark, who she said was responsible for a welt on the back of her leg.
Clark was on probation for two other incidents of domestic violence against Manni as well as one loitering for prostitution case and one robbery case. Manni, too, was on probation for a 2014 conviction of assault with a deadly weapon, according to Sacramento Superior Court records.
Clark hid from law enforcement but tried desperately to get in contact with Manni – records show he called her 76 times in the 48 hours between when she accused him of domestic violence and when he was shot by police. Manni blocked Clark’s number by hitting “*67” at one point, and none of their conversations lasted more than a few seconds. He also tried to contact his probation officer, but couldn’t get through over the weekend.
The couple’s conflict continued over text messages, records show, with Clark professing his innocence and Manni saying she would make sure he went to jail for a long time. He eventually texted other ex-girlfriends seeking drugs, shot back a message saying that he would kill himself if they couldn’t piece their family back together and drafted an email to the DA’s office and his probation officer explaining his side of the dispute.
The rose gold iPhone Clark was holding the night he was shot – the item police thought was a gun – belonged to Manni. She was in bed with their kids the night he was killed, she told Hasan, and found out in a frantic phone call from his grandmother Sequita Thompson.
“I want to be able to explain to them who their dad really was, and that he actually loved them and was there for them, and that he actually wanted to be there in their lives. He wanted to be the best father he could be,” Manni told Hasan. “Whatever’s out on the media, too, is not who their dad is.”