#StephonClark: Family of Man Killed by Police Files Wrongful Death Lawsuit Against Officers, City of Sacramento

Stephon Clark
Photo: The Root File Photo

Lawyers representing the children, parents and grandparents of Stephon Clark—the 22-year-old man killed by two Sacramento police officers in March 2018—have filed a lawsuit against the City of Sacramento as well as the two officers involved, Terrence Mercadal and Jared Robinet.

The suit (pdf), which was filed Monday in the U.S. District Court Eastern District of California, alleges that the officers racially profiled Clark and used excessive force when they fatally shot him in the backyard of his grandparents home nearly a year ago.

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In a statement released by the law firm Panish Shea & Boyle LLP—one of the firms representing the family—the attorneys said the family wants to “hold the officers and the city accountable for violating various civil rights under federal law as well as the California Bane Act that resulted in the execution of decedent, Stephon Clark.”

Brian Panish of Panish Shea & Boyle LLP, Dale K. Galipo of The Law Offices of Dale K. Galipo and Ben Crump of Ben Crump Law, PLLC are representing the plaintiffs in the case.

On March 18, 2018, Officers Mercadal and Robinet responded to a report of a man allegedly breaking into cars in the Meadowview neighborhood of Sacramento. A sheriff’s helicopter guided them to Clark’s location, where he stood in the backyard of his grandparents’ home on the patio.

Without identifying themselves as police, the officers raced to the backyard, demanded that Clark show his hands, then one of them yelled, “Gun! Gun!” and the two of them unloaded 20 shots—10 each—with eight of them striking Clark, mostly in the back.

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As he lay unresponsive and bleeding out from his wounds, the officers withheld lifesaving medical assistance, claiming they could not help him until he showed his hands. It wasn’t until five minutes after he was shot that officers on the body camera footage released to the public could be heard identifying themselves as police.

According to the statement, Mercadal and Robinet of deprived Clark “of his right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures as guaranteed under the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and applied to state actors by the Fourteenth Amendment. Plaintiffs assert that the officers use of deadly force was excessive and unreasonable under the circumstances because Stephon was not armed and ‘this was not an immediate defense of life situation, the involved officers did not give a verbal warning that deadly force would be used despite it being feasible to do so, there were no commands given and there were other reasonable options available other than shooting and killing decedent.’”

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Attorney Benjamin Crump said in the statement: “The Sacramento police executed Stephon Clark in his grandparents’ backyard, mistaking his cell phone for a gun, assuming he was a criminal threat simply because he was a black man. Then they ignored him for six minutes, failing to render any help to save his life. Stephon’s life had value. In America, a life—even a black life—can’t be arbitrarily extinguished without holding those responsible accountable. To dismiss their behavior is horrendously disrespectful. We are filing a civil action today because nothing will change in America until the wrongful death of a black man is met with requisite justice, because justice equals respect—not only for Stephon, but for all black people.”

The suit says that Clark’s children, parents and grandparents have been deprived of his life-long love, companionship, comfort, support, society, care and sustenance for the remainder of their lives because of the actions of Mercadal and Robinet. It also claims that the conduct of the officers was “willful, wanton, malicious, and done with reckless disregard for the rights and safety of decedent and therefore warrants the imposition of exemplary and punitive damages as to Defendants Terrence Mercadal and Jared Robinet.”

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The suit seeks damages in excess of $20 million.

The Sacramento Police Department concluded its investigation into the shooting in October. Anne Marie Schubert, district attorney for Sacramento County, has yet to announce whether or not she will press criminal charges against the officers involved.

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“Since District Attorneys throughout the State and the country are reluctant to press criminal charges against police officers involved in unjustified shootings, families of the victims of these unjustified shootings are left only with civil remedies in a Civil Rights action. Hopefully, the City of Sacramento will recognize how unjustified the killing of Stephon Clark was and offer an apology and substantial compensation to his family without delay. This is the first step to have the family start the healing process. One of the goals of this lawsuit is to not only get justice for Stephon’s family but to help prevent this type of incident from happening again,” Dale Galipo, attorney for the Clark family, said in the statement.

Brian Panish, the attorney representing Clark’s children, said, “Since District Attorneys throughout the State and the country are reluctant to press criminal charges against police officers involved in unjustified shootings, families of the victims of these unjustified shootings are left only with civil remedies in a Civil Rights action. Hopefully, the City of Sacramento will recognize how unjustified the killing of Stephon Clark was and offer an apology and substantial compensation to his family without delay. This is the first step to have the family start the healing process. One of the goals of this lawsuit is to not only get justice for Stephon’s family but to help prevent this type of incident from happening again.”

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About the author

Monique Judge

News Editor for The Root. I said what I said. Period.