‘We are outraged.’ Stephon Clark’s mother and family react to DA’s decision
She brought up his history with domestic violence, and talked about the drugs found in his body after he was shot to death by police.
She raised the despair Stephon Clark was facing the weekend before he died, his fear of going back to jail and not seeing his children again and the intensely personal disputes with his girlfriend as he researched methods of suicide online.
In explaining Saturday why she was not filing criminal charges against the police officers who killed Clark last March, Sacramento District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert tried to tiptoe around the edges of the couple’s troubles, but eventually acknowledged that they played into her final decision.
“You can see that there were many things weighing heavily on his mind,” Schubert said in a riveting 80-minute news conference. “It is clear that they had a very tumultuous relationship.”
“We have done our best to exercise discretion,” Schubert added, noting that she felt compelled to explain the factors that went into her decision not to file charges, and that if she had filed charges, the information would quickly have become part of the officers’ defense.
“The truth is that a jury would be entitled to that information if we brought charges, and we have to consider that,” Schubert said. “So that’s why I kept saying all along this is very sensitive and it’s not comfortable, but it is relevant.”
That wasn’t good enough for Stephon Clark’s mother and others who blasted Schubert for bringing up personal information about Clark and Salena Manni, his girlfriend and mother of his two young sons.
“I don’t care if he was a criminal, none of that matters,” SeQuette Clark said. “Stop trying to justify (the shooting) by looking at a person’s character.”
She also said it was unfair to judge her son, who was 22 when he was killed.
“Everybody should just stop and think about what they did at 22,” she said.
Tanya Faison of Black Lives Matter Sacramento agreed that Schubert went too far, saying, “I just didn’t expect her to vilify him so much.”
Rev. Shane Harris, head of the Los Angeles-based People’s Alliance for Justice and a spokesman for Manni, said the DA went out of her way to embarrass Manni and to “criminalize” her. Harris decried Schubert’s report on the case for publishing angry text messages the couple exchanged after she accused him of a domestic violence incident two days before he was shot by police.
“Its’ one thing to say we have to” look into the personal correspondence between Manni and Clark that weekend, Harris said. “It is another thing to rub it in someone’s face. She rubbed it in Salena’s face. She rubbed it in those two childrens’ faces.”
And at a gathering outside City Hall Saturday afternoon, the Rev. Kevin Kitrell Ross of Unity of Sacramento called for Schubert to be recalled and criticized her for sharing Clark’s toxicology results and the nature of text messages Clark sent in the days before his death.
“Where is the toxicology report for the officers who shot down Stephon Clark?” Ross asked as the crowd erupted in cheers. “Where are the cellphone records of the officers who shot 20 times on Stephon Clark?”
But while the family’s supporters seized upon Schubert’s statements as evidence the DA had gone too far, legal experts said she did exactly what she needed to in presenting her argument for why she would not charge the officers.
“When the DA makes a decision on filing a case, she has to consider whether a jury will convict,” former Sacramento and federal prosecutor William Portanova said. “The defense attorneys for the cops would have been given this evidence and the defense attorneys would have used it in front of a jury to argue in favor of the defense.
“Anne Marie Schubert did the right thing in explaining all of the evidence she had to consider in deciding whether or not she had a winnable case. If the officers were charged, their attorneys no doubt would have argued that Stephon Clark played a role in his own death. That would have been part of the available evidence.”
In fact, Schubert’s report on the case virtually suggested Clark’s despair and suicidal thoughts – and the evidence that he took a shooting position toward officers while holding only a cell phone – spurred him toward “suicide by cop.”
Schubert wouldn’t say that was the intent of her presentation.
“I’m not suggesting that, but I think it’s quite clear that Mr. Clark was in a state of despair and he was impaired and it’s very sad, because no human being should be in that position,” she said.
But former Sacramento Sheriff John McGinness said the evidence clearly showed Clark was trying to get the officers to shoot him.
“I believe that’s exactly what it was,” McGinness said. “It’s a sad story, but this is not a close one, in my opinion. His conduct and behavior was bizarre.”
McGinness also noted that the evidence Schubert was presenting still could end up before a jury evaluating the $20 million federal civil rights lawsuit Clark’s family has filed against the city, and that Schubert was under tremendous pressure to explain whatever decision she made.
“The public was demanding to have answers as to all of the factors that went into the decision,” McGinness said. “It’s the same information that would go before a jury.”