'It suggests all the bullets were from behind,' Stephon Clark family lawyer says
Stephon Clark, a 22-year-old Sacramento man, was fatally shot in his grandparents’ backyard the night of March 18 after two Sacramento Police Department officers responded to a call about car break-ins on 29th Street. The caller reported the suspect was a man wearing a black hooded sweatshirt and that he ran into a backyard.
A Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department helicopter arrived to the scene to help with the call minutes later, and told two officers on the ground about a man in the backyard of a nearby home. A crew member described the suspect as picking up a “tool bar” and breaking the window of the home. Helicopter video of the incident shows Clark jumping over a wooden fence and into the adjacent backyard. This was the backyard belonging to his grandparents’ house, where he was staying.
The officers on the ground eventually found Clark in the backyard and told him to show his hands. Seconds later, they fired their weapons 10 times each.
The Sacramento Police Department says the officers believed Clark was pointing a gun at them. No firearm was found at the scene, instead, Clark died with a cellphone in his hands.
His grandmother, Sequita Thompson, said she told family members to knock on a back window for entrance through the garage door.
Nearly two weeks after the fatal shooting, many questions about the incident remain. Here's what we know, and still don't know, about the sequence of events surrounding Clark’s death.
Q: Who are the officers who fatally shot Stephon Clark in the backyard of his grandparents home?
A: The Sacramento Police Department has declined to identify the officers because they are receiving threats, but a prominent civil rights attorney identified them as Terrence Mercado and Jared Robinet.
Mercadal had been identified to The Sacramento Bee by a separate source. He was identified then as an African American man who had attended Laguna Creek High School in Elk Grove and was known as a patrol officer in the Meadowview neighborhood where Clark was shot.
An online search confirmed a Terrance Mercadal graduated from Laguna Creek in 2003.
According to a search of online information and interviews, Mercadal previously served in the Olive Branch Police Department in Olive Branch, Missouri, about 25 miles from Memphis. He ran a personal training company as well before moving to California following a divorce in 2014.
Mercadal also worked as a limited-term community service officer in Sacramento in 2015 after a short stint as a police officer trainee that year in Oakland, according to Transparent California.
Robinet joined the Sacramento Police Department in 2014. He made $125,144, including overtime pay and benefits, in 2016, according to Transparent California's public employment salary database. Mercadal, who was hired in 2016, made $73,261 that year.
Q: Why did the officers involved mute their mics? What did they say?
A: The department has declined to specify why the the officers muted their body worn cameras minutes after the shooting. Both officers involved in the shooting followed the command, given by a third officer at the scene, about 6 minutes after firing their weapons, body camera footage shows.
“Hey, you guys good?” is the last thing heard from one of the body cameras.
On March 21, Chandler said there were “a variety of reasons why officer have the opportunity to mute their body worn cameras” and directed a Sacramento Bee reporter to the department’s general orders, which are posted online.
Sacramento Police Department General Order 525.07 outlines how the department’s officers are supposed to use body-worn cameras. The document doesn’t specifically mention when or if officers can mute their device, though the document does say the department’s officers can deactivate body-worn cameras in certain situations.
Those include the discussion of tactical or confidential information with other officers, if an officer needs to “discuss issues or concerns with an employee, supervisor, doctor, nurse or paramedic in private,” or if a witness or victim refuses to give officers a statement if they are recorded. Details explaining the deactivation of a body-worn camera are supposed to be documented by police, the general orders say.
Q: Was Clark was the man seen by a neighbor allegedly breaking car windows? Was he was the person who broke the neighbor’s sliding glass window? What evidence is there pointing to that?
A: The answer is unknown at this point.
In a 911 call released by the department on March 21, the caller reports that a man broke his truck windows, the windows of a neighbor’s car and was running through backyards on 29th Street.
When asked the race of the suspect, the caller says he could not tell because the man was wearing a black hooded sweatshirt. He also didn’t know what was used to break the car windows. The caller reported seeing the man wearing pants with either white stripes or white dots. He later adds that the man was in his backyard because he “chased him down there.”
“I heard the noise and I came outside and he was standing right along the side of my truck and I grabbed my ball bat out,” he told a dispatcher.
The caller described the man as having a thin build and standing 6 feet tall, or possibly 6 foot 1 inches. Clark’s brother, Stevante Clark, says Clark was much shorter, standing at around 5 foot 8 or 5 foot 9.
After the shooting, dash camera footage showed Clark was wearing a black hoodie.
As for the sliding glass door, helicopter footage only shows Clark running from his neighbor’s home and jumping over a fence to reach his grandparents’ house. Chandler says the start of the video is when the Sheriff’s Department helicopter infrared camera began recording.
Sacramento Police Chief Daniel Hahn said March 21 he believed Clark was the man a neighbor four doors down reported was breaking car windows. “Do I believe he was the one based on what we know now? I believe that, yeah, but can we factually say it yet? No. But when and if we can, we will put that out,” Hahn told The Sacramento Bee.
Q: Have police identified the “tool bar” that a Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department deputy in a helicopter said Clark used to break a neighbor’s sliding glass door?
A: According to dispatch audio of the incident, an airborne Sacramento County Sheriff’s deputy reported seeing a Clark break a neighbor’s sliding glass door with what he identified as a “tool bar.” So far, police say investigators retrieved only a cinder block and a piece of aluminum similar to the kind used for a rain gutter near the broken sliding glass door. Both items were taken into evidence but it’s not certain that either was the “tool bar” reported by the Sheriff’s deputy.
Q: When will the rest of the department video be released?
A:On March 21, the Sacramento police department released three videos and two audio files from the shooting. The videos included body-worn camera footage from both the officers and an infrared video taken by the Sacramento County Sheriff’s helicopter unit. The audio clips include a 911 call made to the department to report the broken car windows, as well as dispatch audio between the department's dispatchers, officers and the helicopter unit.
Police say the video and audio released March 21 was deemed “significant” to the incident, and that additional files will be released in the near future. The department did not specify how many more video and audio files would be released.
Q: What did the autopsy of Clark reveal?
A:There have been two autopsies conducted.
According to a private autopsy released Friday morning by the Clark family’s legal team, Clark was shot at least six times in the back and eight times total by Sacramento police officers.
The autopsy found that there were no bullet entries from the front. The review was conducted by prominent pathologist Dr. Bennet Omalu, the former chief medical examiner in San Joaquin County best known for his research on football-related concussions.
Omalu found “four entry wounds in the lower part of Stephon’s back; one in the side of his neck, with an exit wound elsewhere in his neck; one in the back of his neck; one under an armpit entering from the side, with an exit wound on the other side of his body; and one in the outside of a leg,” according to a statement.
The Sacramento County Coroner’s autopsy was completed March 20, but those results are not expected to be released until after the Sacramento District Attorney’s Office completes its investigation of the shooting.
Coroner Kim Gin declined to discuss the results of the autopsy her office conducted, but said that review is not completed.
In a statement to The Bee Friday morning, she wrote, “The report is not completed yet because we are waiting for the toxicology results. It will be sent to the DA at that time. I don't know how long that will be. I cannot comment on our results other than the information I’ve already released on the cause and manner which is multiple gunshot wounds and the manner being a homicide."
Later Friday, the Sacramento Police Department issued a statement:
“The Sacramento Police Department has not been provided with the official report from the Sacramento County Coroner’s office in the case of Stephan Clark. The Sacramento County Coroner’s Office conducts an independent death investigation that is separate from the joint investigation being conducted by our agency and the California Department of Justice.
“Further comment by the Sacramento Police Department prior to the release of the Coroner’s report along with the official review by the Sacramento County District Attorney and the California Department of Justice would be inappropriate at this time. We acknowledge the importance of this case to all in our community and we are committed to a thorough and comprehensive investigation.”