The Sacramento Police Department on Thursday cleared Officers Terrence Mercadal and Jared Robinet, who fatally shot Stephon Clark in March 2018, saying they did not violate department policy or training.
“This incident has been thoroughly investigated by law enforcement agencies at the local, state and federal levels,” Chief Daniel Hahn said in a prepared statement. “Every one of these independent examinations has reached the same finding – the use of deadly force in this case was lawful. Our internal investigation concluded that there were no violations of department policy or training.”
“The officers involved in this case will return to full, active duty,” he said, clearing the officers of any wrongdoing.
Mercadal and Robinet have been assigned to desk duty since the shooting, The Bee previously reported.
The expected announcement came just three minutes after U.S. Attorney McGregor Scott and the FBI announced their own investigation into whether the officers had violated Clark’s civil rights was closed, saying it “found insufficient evidence to support federal criminal civil rights charges against the Sacramento Police Department officers involved.”
“The federal investigation sought to determine whether the evidence of the events that led to Clark’s death was sufficient to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that any officer’s actions violated federal criminal civil rights statutes,” Scott’s office said. “Under the applicable federal law, prosecutors must establish, beyond a reasonable doubt, that a law enforcement officer’s use of force was objectively unreasonable in light of the facts and circumstances at the time and that the officer acted willfully, with the purpose of using objectively unreasonable force.”
Clark was shot in his grandmother’s backyard on March 18, 2018, after police responded to reports of a man breaking car windows. Clark was unarmed and holding a cell phone, which officers mistook for a gun, the department said.
Brother Stevante Clark: ‘I’m not surprised or shocked’
“Currently in meeting with FBI Justice Department and Sacramento PD,” posted Stevante Clark, brother of Stephon Clark, on Facebook about 2 p.m. Thursday, “These people have failed when it comes to #Accountability.”
“We just left a meeting with (Scott) and Chief Hahn,” Stevante Clark said in a phone interview. “And the Clark family is failed again. Justice is denied.
“I’m not surprised or shocked, we’ve been denied justice for generations. The only thing that caught me off guard, was Chief Hahn is letting one of the officers back to patrol on the streets. That is f---ed up. Our streets are not safe with a murderer on the streets.
“That is just insane. Putting them back on the streets is not going to go well with the city of Sacramento. We should not be paying our tax dollars for people who don’t know how to do their g--d--- job. I’m hurt right now.”
One of the Clark family’s lawyers, Dale Galipo, said he was “disappointed but not surprised because I think with few exceptions in the last 10,000 police officer shootings there’s been no criminal prosecutions.”
Galipo, who three weeks ago finalized a $2.4 million settlement with the city for Clark’s two sons, still represents Clark’s parents and grandparents in a pending federal civil rights lawsuit and said the city’s decision to retain the officers could be problematic if they are involved in another shooting down the road.
“It’s negligent not to be able to recognize the difference between a handgun and a white cell phone, it’s a little troubling,” Galipo said. “The department’s decision to keep them on the force will always haunt them if they are involved in another shooting.”
Another of the family’s attorneys, nationally prominent civil rights lawyer Ben Crump, echoed those sentiments.
“We are disappointed that the officers involved in this horrendous episode will be allowed to resume their jobs as if nothing happened,” Crump said in a statement Friday. “Stephon Clark was in a place he was allowed to be, doing things he was allowed to do, yet these officers murdered him for no reason.
“The decisions not to pursue criminal charges against these officers will not deter us from fighting for justice in civil court for Stephon’s family.”
Depositions for members of the Clark family are scheduled to be taken Oct. 9, according to a filing made in the lawsuit Thursday.
Past protests and policies changed
In March, nearly a year after the shooting, District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert also cleared Mercadal and Robinet, and did not press criminal charges against the two officers. In a news conference at the time, Schubert said the officers “acted lawfully under the circumstances” and the shooting was justified. California Attorney General Xavier Becerrra, who conducted his own investigation, came to a similar conclusion.
Mayor Darrell Steinberg, who has described the shooting as a deep wound to the city, issued a brief statement Thursday afternoon: “This incident has been investigated at every level and each agency came to the same conclusion. Those conclusions, however, will never change the fact that this was a tragedy and the Clark family lost a loved one.
“As a city and as a police department, we have made many important changes. We changed our foot pursuit policy, our body worn camera policy and will continue to make the changes necessary to make our city safer for our community and our officers. “
Sacramento City Councilman Larry Carr, who represents the Meadowview area where Clark was shot, called the shooting a tragedy, but said good had come out of it.
“It led to some significant reforms in terms of police use of force not only in the city but across the state,” Carr said. “It has led to us having a better police force and more transparency about what happens in use of force incidents, which makes a stronger bond between the police and community.”
Speaking to The Bee, Stevante Clark said he believes “this wraps it up” as far as any potential action against the officers, but he and other members of the family are not going to let the issue drop. “My job as my brother’s keeper is to keep fighting for accountability and justice. My job is to make sure nothing like this happens ever again in our city.”
Use of force reforms
The passage of AB 392, toughening standards for police use of lethal force, was a good step, but not a major one, he said.
Clark said he is meeting tonight at the Families United 4 Justice conference in Las Vegas with members of other families who have suffered losses at the hands of police to talk about reform strategies.
“I’m working with other families to move this (police shootings) issue to a higher level to get more done.”
A somber Clark addressed reporters minutes after the announcement.
“We don’t want killer cops on our streets, we’re not going to have killer cops on our streets,” he said. “Sacramento police should know the difference between a gun and a cell phone and my brother should be with us today.”
Clark’s mother Sequette Clark and grandmother Sequita Thompson appeared alongside him at the impromptu press conference, and shared many of his sentiments.
“If that officer hits the streets, it is not going to be okay in the city of Sacramento. Period,” Sequette Clark said. “They have done everything to reopen these wounds and pack salt into them.”
Except for the pending civil suit, Thursday’s announcements bring to end any official review of the shooting, which sparked widespread unrest and angry protest marches that continued for a year.
The protests and sit-ins shut down Arden Fair Mall, snarled traffic downtown and on Interstate 5, and blocked access to the Golden 1 Center during a Sacramento Kings game. Marches continued into this year with one in the city’s exclusive Fab 40s neighborhood that ended with the arrests of 80 people, including protesters and reporters.
Sacramento for Black Lives leader Sonia Lewis said her group was not planning a protest Thursday in response to the announcements, saying that some members were set to attend the same conference in Las Vegas.
“It’s unfortunate that the at the legal means never worked for communities like Meadowview, for families like the Clark family, people who walk around with black skin,” Lewis said. “Why do they continue to pay out millions of dollars in lawsuits when one of our loved ones is murdered, but they won’t face the consequences or acknowledge guilt for killing them?”
Les Simmons, pastor of South Sacramento Christian Center, said the decision reopened a wound in the community.
“I think people are in shock in this moment that there has been no accountability when it comes to Stephon Clark,” he said. “Today just continually opens up that wound without any healing. ... It’s a repeated pattern of no accountability.”
“What does this tell us as community that two killer police will now be on full active duty on our streets?” said Berry Accius, founder of Voice of the Youth and community activist. “What is the message that is being sent to us? ... The message to me is, basically, saying it doesn’t matter how much we infiltrate the system; it doesn’t matter how many trainings they create.”
“So, it’s a slap in the face for all the work that many of us have done to create this space, all the work that we have done to force the city to say ‘hey, we have to look at policies and change,’ ” Accius said. “... To me that speaks volumes of what policing in Sacramento looks like.”