The family of Stephon Clark, the unarmed 22-year-old black man shot to death by two Sacramento police officers in March, has filed wrongful death claims with the city seeking up to $35 million for his death, a source told The Sacramento Bee.
City officials did not immediately provide the documents Thursday, but issued a news release saying the claim forms seek damages “in excess of $15 million” for “nine separate causes of action that include negligence and wrongful death.”
A source said the claims were filed by Los Angeles attorney Dale Galipo and other lawyers seeking $20 million for Clark’s two children and $15 million for his grandparents and parents.
The documents were filed less than two weeks before the six-month deadline for submitting a wrongful death claim to the city and are considered a precursor to a federal civil rights lawsuit.
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The amount sought in the claims is nearly the size of the city’s $37 million parks budget. Typically, the amounts filed in such claims are later reduced through negotiations or at trial.
The largest jury award in the Sacramento area in recent memory was $6.5 million awarded one year ago to the family of Johnathan Rose, a mentally ill man shot to death by a Sacramento sheriff’s deputy.
That case, which was later reduced by a federal judge to $4 million in a move that is under appeal, was brought by Galipo and Sacramento attorney Stewart Katz, who said the notoriety and circumstances of the Clark shooting likely contributed to the amount being sought.
“I’m not surprised,” said Katz, who is not involved in the Clark case but is one of the area’s most prominent lawyers suing law enforcement in use-of-force cases. “It’s a case that’s clearly a big blip on the national media radar.
“You certainly have an A-plus team of attorneys and, at least in the plaintiffs’ view of the facts, it’s an egregious shooting.”
The amount sought dwarfs past settlements in wrongful death claims.
A $5.75 million settlement in July 2018 by the city of Stockton in the shooting death of Misty Holt-Singh, killed after being taken hostage in a bank robbery that ended in a shootout with police, is one of the largest single settlements of a law enforcement wrongful death or excessive force claim in the region.
Clark was killed after a foot chase by Sacramento police who were responding to reports of a man smashing car windows in the Meadowview area.
Two officers chased him into the backyard of a home - authorities learned later it was his grandparents’ house - and police say he was shot after he turned toward them with what they believed was a handgun. Investigators later determined Clark was carrying a cellphone and that the officers fired 20 shots.
The shooting sparked protests that shut down traffic around Sacramento, loud sit-ins at City Council meetings and demonstrations outside District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert’s office that continue to this day.
Last month, activists showed up at a pre-wedding event for one of the officers, Terrence Mercadal, and confronted him on video.
Sacramento police have not officially identified the officers involved, but an attorney in the office of civil rights lawyer John Burris previously told The Bee that Mercadal and fellow Officer Jared Robinet fired the shots.
The shooting, recorded on officers’ body cameras and a sheriff’s helicopter hovering overhead, stoked national outrage, particularly after a private autopsy commissioned by the Clark family legal team found Clark had been shot eight times, six in the back.
The county’s own autopsy disputed that, concluding he was shot seven times, three in the back.
Since the shooting, Black Lives Matter activists have conducted regular protests and barbecues outside the Sacramento County District Attorney’s Office, demanding that Schubert file criminal charges against the officers.
Tanya Faison, a founder of Sacramento’s Black Lives Matter chapter, was at Schubert’s office for a protest Thursday and said she was pleased with the filing.
“I hope that they sue,” Faison said. “I’m really anxious for the police to stop killing us...I hope the family gets what they want.”
Clark family members could not be reached for comment Thursday.
Schubert has said she cannot make any decision in the case until the police investigation is turned over to her office for review. As of Thursday, that still had not happened.
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra also has said his office will conduct its own independent review of the shooting.