In their own words: Sacramento officers who shot Stephon Clark give their side of the story

Watch: Here’s what happened in the shooting of Stephon Clark

Sacramento police shot and killed 22-year-old Stephon Clark Sunday night, March 18, 2018. Clark was unarmed and holding only a cell phone.
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Sacramento police shot and killed 22-year-old Stephon Clark Sunday night, March 18, 2018. Clark was unarmed and holding only a cell phone.

When Terrence Mercadal came around a corner and into that dark Meadowview backyard last March 18, he was stunned to see a suspect he’d been chasing pointing his hands at him like he was ready to shoot him.

“When I come around the corner – the corner of the house – I - I left cover and I look and I see that same subject with his hoodie and sweatshirt pulled up and his arms pointed out extended like this,” the Sacramento police officer said less than seven hours after he and his partner shot Stephon Clark to death.

“At which time I looked and based on the light coming off of my - my tactical light –it appeared I thought that he had already shot at me because I saw what I believed to be a metallic reflection or muzzle flash – something coming at me,” he said. “So I - I was scared. I thought that he had shot at me. I think I remember yelling, ‘Gun,’ and I ducked back behind the corner of the house for cover.”

These are the comments recorded by police investigators hours after Clark, an unarmed 22-year-old black man, was shot to death by Mercadal and fellow Officer Jared Robinet. They are contained in 775 pages of police reports, dispatch records and photographs released by the Sacramento Police Department late Tuesday, hours after state Attorney General Xavier Becerra announced no charges would be filed against either officer.

The comments from both officers were given to police investigating the officer-involved shooting, and were released by the department to comply with Senate Bill 1421, a new police transparency law that took effect Jan. 1.

The transcripts of their interviews mark the first time the full contents of their recollection of that night have been made public, and the release of the documents comes at a time of great tension in Sacramento as activists continue to protest over Clark’s death.

Mercadal, who was hired by the Sacramento Police Department in October 2015 after working at a department in Olive Branch, Miss., was interviewed at 3:34 a.m. the morning after Clark was killed. He recalled getting a call to a report of a suspect breaking car windows in Meadowview, then chasing him and eventually ending up in the backyard of Clark’s grandmother’s home.

After his first glance around the corner, when he thought he saw the suspect holding a gun, Mercadal said he had to stop “to kind of get my bearings.”

“Did I see what I thought I saw?” he remembered thinking, according to the transcripts.

Then, he said, he thought of how close he had come to being shot.

“I - the first thing I thought I was like, ‘Wow, that was stupid of me to come around the corner that fast,’ you know. And - and I remember thinking, I’m like, ‘This guy’s freaking shooting at,’ I was like, ‘Is that a gun? He’s shooting at me.’

“And it was kind of surreal. It was almost like slow motion and I was like, ‘This dude’s freaking shooting at me. How am I - he’s really shooting at me.’ And so I remember, you know, ‘Get out of the way, dummy.’”

By then, Robinet was by his side, and Mercadal took another look around the corner, according to the transcripts.

“And I poked my head back out around the corner way further than I should’ve put it out there, and I see that the subject is advancing towards us,” he said. “And I see that same bright metallic shining of the light in his hands and I (thought) he had - was approaching and shooting at us. And so I remember ducking for cover.”

Robinet, who came to the department after five years as a Border Patrol agent, was interviewed in a separate room at police headquarters at 3:13 a.m. and told a similar story.

He had spent most of his shift the day of the shooting watching over a prisoner at a hospital, he said, and after returning the inmate to the jail he responded to the call on 29th Street.

After he and Mercadal ended up hiding behind the corner in the backyard, Robinet said he saw Clark standing about 15 to 20 feet away in an “isosceles position,” a shooting position with the subject’s hands held forward and together, transcripts in the police report show.

“It was hard to see - make out anything clear. All I saw was a subject in dark clothing standing in that position with his hands punched out with something in his hands. (Mercadal) yelled gun.

“I honestly was really surprised that I hadn’t heard gunshots yet,” he continued. “And to protect myself and - and (Terrence) I fired what I thought was five rounds on scene. And later thought was maybe more.”

“I was scared - like I say I was scared he was going to shoot us,” Robinet said. “I really felt like that was a gun.

Robinet said he thought the suspect “had the drop on us,” and could have easily hit Mercadal. He told an investigator he feared both of them would be shot, and described his first thought coming around the corner.

“To be frank it was, ‘Oh s---,’ Robinet said. “And that’s also when - you know I was really surprised that he hadn’t started shooting on us.”

The officers ended up firing a total of 20 rounds, and struck Clark at least six times. The officers had yelled at Clark to stop before he ended up in the backyard, and yelled at him again after he was shot, asking him to show his hands because they feared he had a gun.

“He didn’t say a single thing,” Robinet added, before the officers and others decided it was safe to approach Clark and begin CPR.

Clark didn’t have a gun. Instead, he had been holding a cell phone, and body camera audio captured Robinet asying “Oh f---” in a whisper as officers got to Clark’s body.

The documents released Tuesday, which were redacted in numerous places to remove witness names, addresses and other information, also included interviews with other officers, Clark family members and friends and text messages from the cell phone Clark had been carrying.

Much of the text message material was disclosed Saturday, when Sacramento District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert announced she would not file charges against either officer.

The decisions by Schubert and the attorney general still do not end the case. The FBI and U.S. attorney’s office in Sacramento will review both reports for possible civil rights violations, and Robinet and Mercadal still face a decision from Police Chief Daniel Hahn on whether they violated any department policies when they fired.

They also have been named in a $20 million federal lawsuit filed against them and the city by the Clark family.

And, both officers have become poster fodder – literally – for activists who want them prosecuted.

On Monday night, as demonstrators marched through East Sacramento, they left posters behind on car windshields.

The posters featured both officers’ names and photos under the heading, “WANTED by the people of Sacramento for the murder of Stephon Clark.”

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Sam Stanton has worked for The Bee since 1991 and has covered a variety of issues, including politics, criminal justice and breaking news.