California Attorney General Xavier Becerra announced Tuesday that he will not file criminal charges against the officers who shot Stephon Clark a year ago, setting the stage for even more unrest and protests in Sacramento.
“Our investigation has concluded that no criminal charges against the officers involved in the shooting can be sustained,” Becerra said.
Becerra, who met with Clark’s mother, Se’Quette Clark before revealing his decision, laid out a series of facts similar to those announced by Sacramento District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert on Saturday, and essentially came to the same conclusion: Officers Terrence Mercadal and Jared Robinet believed Clark was armed and that they feared for their lives when they opened fire.
But Becerra, who issued a 10-page report on the case, emphasized that his probe was entirely independent of hers.
“We did an independent, separate investigation of the facts and evidence in this case,” he said. “We did it on our own …and we reached our own conclusions.”
Unlike Schubert, who presented extensive evidence of Clark’s activities in the two days before he was shot – including the fact that he’d had a dispute with his girlfriend, was in despair over the fear of returning to jail and that he had been researching possible methods of suicide online – Becerra’s report did not focus on such personal details.
“Clark’s phone was forensically examined and the contents revealed communications between Clark and friends and family via phone calls and text messages, as well as internet searches, which provided investigators with some insight into Clark’s whereabouts and activities and possible state of mind prior to the shooting,” Becerra’s report stated. “We did not rely on this evidence in determining whether criminal charges against the officers are warranted because it did not directly bear on the central question of the officers’ state of mind since they did not know about it.”
Becerra acknowledged that the Clark family is “left grieving and seeking answers.”
“I know this is not how Clark’s family wanted this story to end,” Becerra said, calling his office’s decision “a tough call.”
“It’s never easy,” he added. “The family was patient throughout through their grief and anger. These kind of tragedies – they’re tough.
“I don’t think these officers feel like it’s over. There’s no win here. I think the Clark family can help us move forward.”
Becerra stressed that his office’s investigation focused solely on whether officers’ shooting of the unarmed Clark was lawful, brushing aside questions of whether the shooting violated departmental policy, something Chief Daniel Hahn must still decide.
Becerra also rejected the idea that the Attorney General’s Office should be the sole investigators of officer-involved shootings, saying his office doesn’t have the capacity to take on the work of California’s 58 district attorneys.
“The DAs are far closer to the work they do,” he said.
But with the AG’s investigation into the shooting at an end, Becerra said he plans to get involved with a pair of use of force bills being pushed by lawmakers.
“It’s clear that we can move the dial on this,” he told reporters after the news conference. “There’s enough information out there. I will get involved now that we’ve completed this.”
The announcement came as Sacramento officials contend with growing unrest among activists angered over the death of Clark, an unarmed 22-year-old black man who was shot holding a cell phone that officers say they mistook for a gun.
Since Schubert’s announcement Saturday, activists have marched to police headquarters, staged a sit-in that prompted the closure Sunday of Arden Fair mall – the city’s largest shopping center – and spawned a chaotic march Monday night through East Sacramento that resulted in 84 arrests and scenes of officers in riot gear marching shoulder to shoulder through the wealthy Fabulous 40s neighborhood.
More protests are expected Tuesday, with one march directed at police headquarters again and demonstrators expected to flood into City Hall, where a council meeting is scheduled for Tuesday.
Monday night’s protests included the arrests of prominent clergy leaders and others who found themselves being accused of failure to disperse after police tried to shut the march down because of reports that five cars in the East Sacramento neighborhood had been keyed.
Becerra announced plans for his own investigation shortly after Clark was shot as he fled from officers in Meadowview as they were investigating reports of a man breaking car windows.
Clark was later determined to be the suspect, and Schubert’s investigation concluded the officers thought he was in a shooting position holding his cell phone out at them when they fired 20 shots, striking him at least six times.
Still pending is a $20 million federal lawsuit the Clark family has filed against the city of Sacramento and the officers, as well as a review of both Schubert’s and Becerra’s investigations by the FBI and U.S. Attorney’s Office in Sacramento.
“Now that both state and local authorities have completed their investigations into the shooting of Stephon Clark, the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the FBI, in conjunction with the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, will examine whether the shooting involved violations of Mr. Clark’s federal civil rights,” U.S. Attorney McGregor Scott and FBI Special Agent in Charge Sean Ragan said in a statement. “That examination will involve a review of the substance and results of the state and local investigations, and any additional investigative steps, if warranted.”
In January, Becerra released a report urging the Sacramento Police Department to adopt sweeping changes in its use of force training and dozens of other areas. The 96-page report – which studied studied 18 officer-involved shootings over a nearly five-year period but including the Clark incident – offered 49 recommendations for changes in department policies.
A second report, not yet released, will focus on non-deadly use of force, recruitment and prevention of bias, among other areas, Becerra said, noting that Sacramento police already have adopted a number of overhauls that include the use of body cameras on all officers, the public release of videos and improvements in its foot-chase policy.