Minutes after Sacramento District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert announced Saturday that she would not file criminal charges against the police officers who shot and killed Stephon Clark, Mayor Darrell Steinberg appeared at City Hall and apologized profusely to the Clark family for his death, the latest in his message that Clark should not have died.
One day before that appearance, however, the city attorney’s office filed an answer to the Clark family’s $20 million wrongful death lawsuit and denying virtually all of the allegations in it.
The filing in federal court, made Friday by Senior Deputy City Attorney Andrea M. Velasquez, in essence denies a number of claims lodged against the city in the lawsuit, including that Clark was unarmed and carrying only a cell phone, that Clark posed no threat to the officers and that Officers Terrence Mercadel and Jared Robinet “did not show a reverence for human life.”
Such filings are routine in civil suits, with defendants regularly denying claims initially as cases proceed through the system and answering lawsuits paragraph by paragraph by writing that “defendants deny each and every allegation contained therein.”
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But the city’s 16-page answer to the Clark family claim illustrates the difficulty officials face as they seek to calm emotions in Sacramento with apologies for Clark’s death while balancing the city’s potential financial exposure over the March 18, 2018, shooting of Clark, an unarmed 22-year-old Sacramento man who was carrying a cell phone that police say they mistook for a gun.
Dale Galipo, an attorney for the family, said Sunday that such filings are not unusual and that with a March 12 status conference on the case pending, the city had two options: file a motion to dismiss the suit or file a motion denying the claims in it.
“What they’re saying is, they’re denying our allegations, which is pretty standard,” Galipo said. “But, regarding the timing, it is pretty interesting.”
The Clark family originally filed a $35 million claim against the city on Sept. 4 seeking damages for his wrongful death, funeral and medical expenses and punitive damages.
“The City of Sacramento Police Department’s involved officers unjustly shot and killed Stephon Clark and used excessive and unreasonable force against Stephon Clark while he was in the backyard of his family home,” according to the claim forms. “Stephon Clark never verbally threatened anyone and he was unarmed when he was fatally shot multiple times, including numerous shots to his back, shots while he was going to the ground and shots after he had already went down to the ground.
“At the time of the shooting, Stephon Clark posed no imminent threat of death or serious physical injury to either the involved officers or any other person.”
The city rejected the claims on Oct. 19 after some preliminary discussion about settling the matter, Galipo said.
“There were early on general discussions about whether this matter could be resolved,” he said. “There were no numbers exchanged, there were no commitments on either side, but there was never any follow-up from the city so eventually we filed the lawsuit.”
The Clark family’s suit was filed Jan. 28 and seeks at least $20 million. It names the city and the two officers as defendants.
Since then, Schubert completed her legal review of the shooting and released her determination Saturday that the officers had reason to believe their lives were in danger and had not committed a crime.
Galipo, who is nationally known for winning millions of dollars for clients who were victims of police uses of force, said Schubert’s finding will not impact the civil suit, adding that he has seen many cases in which a district attorney rules that officers did not commit a crime but civil juries award large verdicts for the plaintiffs.
Galipo also rejected the notion that Clark was suicidal and was seeking to have police shoot him, a suggestion that some took from Schubert’s presentation about him being in despair and conducting internet searches on how to commit suicide before his death.
“What really bothers me about the presentation or the suggestion that Stephon Clark wanted to be killed by the police,” Galipo said. “That to me is totally without merit.
“I get it. A lot of people do and say silly things. But does that mean they actually want to kill themselves? And does that mean they want to be killed by the police?
“I don’t believe there’s any evidence of a suicide attempt, and if he wanted to be killed by police he did it in a weird way. He went to his grandparents’ house and was knocking on the door trying to get let in.”
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