Sacramento police chief says officers who shot Stephon Clark could be fired – or cleared

Sacramento Police Chief Daniel Hahn said he intends to conduct a fast internal review in the coming weeks of whether his officers failed to follow police procedures the night they chased down and shot Stephon Clark. Any outcome is possible, he said, including the officers getting fired.

Speaking to The Sacramento Bee late Saturday, Hahn said he was not sure how much of the internal review he would reveal to the public, but said he planned to disclose as much as his lawyers say he can.

The two officers, initially called to investigate reports of someone breaking car windows, confronted Clark, 22, in the side yard of his grandparents’ Meadowview home and chased him into the backyard, where they fired 20 rounds at him, mistakenly believing the cellphone in his hand was a gun.

Hahn expressed regret about the shooting, saying his department is working on changes “to prevent an incident like this from happening again.”

“If I could turn back the hands of time, if I could bring back Stephon Clark, anybody would do that,” he said. “If all the things were known then that we know now, but that is not realistic in the moment.”

Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert announced on Saturday her office’s investigation determined the officers were justified in the shooting and would not face criminal charges. Officers have the legal right, she said, to use deadly force if they believe at the time that their lives are in danger, even if that later turns out not to be true.

Angry with the DA’s decision not to prosecute, members of Black Lives Matter, the NAACP and other community leaders, including representatives of the Clark family, are demanding that the officers be fired.

“We need to speak to our city leaders to empower the termination of those two officers,” NAACP Sacramento chapter head Betty Williams said.

Both officers, Terrance Mercadal and Jared Robinet, are still on the force.

Hahn said his department will launch its internal review of the officers’ actions once he gets the investigative report from the DA and a separate investigation report from the state attorney general. Hahn said he expects to receive the AG report soon, but has not been told exactly when.

The internal police investigation will focus on whether the officers followed Police Department policy. The resulting department actions “can run the whole gamut,” Hahn said. “It could range from that they were (acting) within policy. It could be termination.”

Tim Davis, president of the Sacramento Police Officers Association, said the Clark shooting “illustrates how complicated and dynamic a request for police service can be.”

“The officers in this case were clearly afraid for their life, and were legally justified in their use of force,” Davis said in a written statement.

Clark Gallery091.jpg
Stevante Clark, talks with Sacramento Police Chief Daniel Hahn before the city council meeting on Tuesday April 10, 2018 at City Hall in Sacramento. His brother, Stephon Clark, was unarmed when he was fatally shot by Sacramento Police in the backyard of his grandparents home. Paul Kitagaki Jr. pkitagaki@sacbee.com

In cases where an officer is fired, Hahn said he would make a recommendation to City Manager Howard Chan, who has the final say.

Hahn declined to say how long he will take to do his review. “I don’t want to give a specific date, but we want to do that really quick. It won’t be months down the road unless something comes up.”

Hahn said he will seek legal advice on how much of the review to disclose. “I am committed to releasing everything we are required by law,” he said. “The attorneys would tell us specifically what to release, but I believe at the outset there is something that would be released.”

A new state law, SB 1421, requires the disclosure of internal investigations regarding police shootings, sexual misconduct and professional dishonesty. Law enforcement officials and news media have been sparring in court over the extent of the new law, and some law agencies have refused to disclose information.

Hahn said the department has been working with the attorney general and other policing experts on modifying police policies, including creating a more analytical pursuit policy. The department will be working with UC Berkeley, he said, on an ongoing “implicit bias” training program designed to teach officers about the subconscious biases they may carry.

Hahn said the past 10 months since the shooting have been tough on the police and the community, but especially the Clark family.

“I can’t comprehend what that family has gone through,” he said. “The family lost a loved one. No matter what decision, it doesn’t bring people back. Our dedication is to look to find ways to get better to keep officers and community members safe.”

Davis, president of the police union, said his organization will work with the department “to review our policies and procedures to find ways to reduce tragic outcomes in the future.”

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Tony Bizjak has been reporting for The Bee for 30 years. He covers transportation, housing and development and previously was the paper’s City Hall beat reporter.