Capitol Alert

Gavin Newsom calls for ‘systemic reforms’ after no charges in Stephon Clark’s death

‘We are outraged.’ Stephon Clark’s mother and family react to DA’s decision

Stephon Clark's family reacts on Saturday, March 2, 2019 to the Sacramento County district attorney's decision not to press charges against the officers who shot him in 2018.
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Stephon Clark's family reacts on Saturday, March 2, 2019 to the Sacramento County district attorney's decision not to press charges against the officers who shot him in 2018.

Gov. Gavin Newsom called for “systemic reforms” in California’s criminal justice system just hours after Sacramento County officials on Saturday announced they would not prosecute two officers who shot Stephon Clark to death at his grandmother’s home a year ago.

“This must be a time for change,” Newsom said in a written statement calling for increased community policing and other efforts to build trust between residents and law enforcement agencies.

“We need to acknowledge the hard truth – our criminal justice system treats young black and Latino men and women differently than their white counterparts. That must change,” Newsom said.

Clark, an unarmed 22-year-old black man, was gunned down by officers in his grandmother’s backyard on March 18, 2018 in an incident that sparked protests and compelled leaders to answer questions about law enforcement officers’ use of force.

Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert on Saturday announced her office would not pursue charges against the officers after completing its review in to the shooting.

Several leading Democratic lawmakers echoed Newsom on Saturday in calling for new use of force standards following Schubert’s announcement.

“I remain committed more than ever before to working on California’s law enforcement use-of-force standard,” Senate Pro Tem Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, announced on Saturday. “Our goal must continue to be to reduce preventable deaths and restore the public’s trust in our law enforcement agencies.”

The most controversial bill in the Legislature that attempts to reduce officer-involved shootings comes from Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, D-San Diego. It would make it easier to prosecute law enforcement officers after questionable shootings by changing use of force standards.

Currently, the standard for deciding whether to prosecute law enforcement officers centers on whether their actions are “reasonable.” Weber’s Assembly Bill 392, the Act to Save Lives, would change the standard to whether deadly force is “necessary.”

“It is unfortunate to say, but this outcome was expected,” Weber said in a written statement after Schubert’s announcement. “For too long the standard for the use of lethal force in California has led to unnecessary deaths like Stephon Clark’s. To allow the status quo to remain will mean more unnecessary deaths and more families left without justice for the loss of their loved ones.”

Newsom did not endorse Weber’s bill. His office said he would carefully review it if it reaches his desk. Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg, a former Senate president, on Saturday said he endorsed Weber’s proposal.

Assemblyman Kevin McCarty, D-Sacramento, is working with Weber to carry the bill. “The lack of police accountability and disregard for human life is immoral and makes communities less safe. The law needs to change,” McCarty said on Saturday in written statement in which he also called Schubert’s announcement “disappointing.”

Weber submitted the bill a year ago and it did not pass the Legislature. She introduced it again at a February press conference where a lawmaker cited Clark’s death in calling for a new law.

“This is a measure that will assure and help end and make sure that there are no more Stephon Clarks, Trayvon [Martins], Michael Browns, Eric Garners, Freddie Grays, Antwon Rose as well,” state Sen. Steven Bradford, D-Gardena, said as he listed the names of black men who’ve been killed after run-ins with police across country. Martin of Florida was killed in by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch captain.

The decision not to indict the officers, Schubert said, was based largely on the conduct of the officers immediately before, during and after the shooting.

In body camera footage, officers demanded that Clark show them his hands, and Schubert noted that he did not stop, but instead advanced toward the officers. Officers in recordings also can be heard asking each other whether they’ve been shot.

“Was a crime committed?” Schubert asked. “The answer to that question is no. People will be very upset and very angry. No criminal charges will be filed in this case does not diminish in any way the tragedy, the anger, the frustration that we’ve heard since the time of his death.”

Police unions and police chiefs lobbied against Weber’s bill last year. They’ve signaled they’ll support a competing bill Sen. Anna Caballero, D-Salinas, that also recommends reforming use-of-force policy requirements. It would require more robust officer training and provide a clearer legal standard for use of force.

Weber made one significant change in the latest version of her bill. It now allows officers to invoke self defense without penalty in explaining their decisions.

More than 170 people were shot and killed by police officers in 2017. Schubert said she would not offer comments on impending legislation.

Other advocates released statements endorsing Weber’s bill.

“Today’s decision opens a new wound for the Sacramento community and serves as a potent reminder that California’s law on the use of deadly force needs immediate reform,” Lizzie Buchen, legislative advocate for the ACLU of California’s Center for Advocacy and Policy said. “AB 392 offers a clear path forward.”

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