“I want to start by saying a few things, the most important of which is an apology to the Clark family.”
Those were the words of Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert as she took the podium just after 3 p.m. EST Saturday to begin the press conference in which she ultimately revealed that the two Sacramento police officers who shot and killed an unarmed 22-year-old Stephon Clark as he stood in his grandparents’ backyard would not face criminal liability for their actions.
“There is no question that the death of Stephon Clark was a tragedy not just for his family but for this community,” Schubert said.
“I can certainly understand that there is tremendous grief, anger and anxiety by the Clark family and by this community,” she continued.
Schubert said she met with Clark’s mother earlier Saturday, and her “grief was very apparent.”
“My job as the district attorney is to make sure that we conduct a full, fair and independent review of the shooting. That job means that I follow the facts and the law and that in the process of this review that we treat everyone with dignity, grace and caring,” she said before detailing her investigation and the evidence that went into her decision not to charge the officers.
It took Schubert nearly 90 minutes, going on and on about the evidence her office looked at before coming to announce the decision.
For the first time ever, the two officers in question were officially and publicly identified by Schubert as Terrence Mercadal and Jared Robinet. Previously, the department had declined to identify the officers for fear of their safety. Their names were made public by the office of Oakland civil rights attorney John Burris.
“Was a crime committed? It is a question that we answer every day in our profession as prosecutors,” Schubert said.
In the case of Robinet and Mercadal, that answer—according to the Sacramento district attorney—is no.
In a 40-page report (pdf), Schubert’s office detailed the evidence they reviewed in their investigation, which included the official police report from Sacramento PD; a report from the California Department of Justice; 911 audio recordings; dispatch recordings and logs; body-worn camera, helicopter, in-car camera, surveillance, and crime scene video recordings; photographs and diagrams; audio/video recordings of witness interviews; Sacramento DA Crime Lab reports; Cellebrite Extraction Report (cellphone analysis of Clark’s phone only); a report from an outside expert, David Blake; the Sacramento County Coroner’s report; a report of case review by Gregory Reiber, M.D.; and County of San Diego Medical Examiner’s Department letter.
Schubert’s office has provided a website with links to a great deal of the evidence pertaining to the case.
In a legal review summary of the case (pdf), the DA outlines the circumstances surrounding the shooting as follows:
- A citizen called 911 on March 18, 2018, at 9:10 p.m. to report that an individual was walking down the street breaking car windows, including the windows on two cars that the caller owned.
- Mercadal and Robinet responded to the call with assistance from Sacramento Sheriff’s Department helicopter in which “Sheriff’s Deputy Gomez was the observer in the helicopter and updated dispatch on what was seen from the air.”
- Mercadal and Robinet made contact with the 911 caller and then began searching the backyard the caller said he saw Clark enter.
- Gomez saw Clark jump a fence into another backyard, and he directed Mercadal and Robinet to that location.
- One of the officers “spotted Mr. Clark looking into the windows of a dark SUV parked alongside of a home on 29th street.
- As the officers approached Clark, Mercadal yelled loudly, “Stop. Stop. Show me your hands.”
- Clark immediately ran along the side of the house turning into the backyard.
- The officers could not see around the back corner of the house, and they were unaware that the house belonged to Clark’s grandparents.
- “The backyard was dark with no exterior lighting. The only lighting was from the officers’ flashlights. As the officers rounded the corner of the house into the backyard, both officers saw Mr. Clark facing them, standing in a shooting position behind a picnic table. Both officers saw a flash of light coming from Mr. Clark’s position. Officer Mercadal believed he was being fired upon. Still frames captured from the body-worn cameras show Stephon Clark behind the picnic table. A flash of light can be seen consistent with the timing and position described by the officers.”
- Mercadal then yelled, “Show me your hands. Gun,” and both officers took cover behind the corner of the house.
- “As the officers peered around the corner of the house a second time, Mr. Clark was advancing toward them in a shooting stance. The helicopter video confirms that Stephon Clark was advancing on the officers. Officer Mercadal yelled, “Show me your hands. Gun, gun, gun.” Both officers then fired multiple shots, striking Stephon Clark seven times. The total time shots were fired was 4.5 seconds. “
The report also states:
The body worn cameras also captured the officers’ conduct immediately after the shooting. The officers yelled, “Show me your hands” and “Let’s see your hands.”
Officer Mercadal asked Officer Robinet, “You alright? You Hit?” Officer Robinet responded, “Yeah, I’m good.” Mercadal said, “Yeah, I’m alright. I don’t think I’m hit or anything.”
The officers then discussed how to safely approach Mr. Clark to remove the gun. Upon examination, it was discovered that the object Stephon Clark was holding was a cellphone, not a gun.
When asked whether any of the video corroborated the statement that Clark was standing in a “shooting stance,” Schubert could not say that was the case. She also revealed that the 911 caller had confronted Clark themselves with a baseball bat.
One question that was not asked and that we still do not have an answer for is, how was Clark to know who was coming into his backyard when the police had not identified themselves?
If he had previously been confronted by a neighbor with a baseball bat, how was he to know it was not that neighbor or another neighbor coming after him in the backyard? Was this even considered?
A fact clearly omitted from the press conference is that the officers did not identify themselves as Sacramento police until five minutes after the shooting when Clark lay on the ground—likely already dead.
When he was interviewed, Officer Mercadal said that he saw a flash of light that he thought was a muzzle flash from a gun. Did he ever hear a gunshot? Was he asked that?
Schubert went over the toxicology report done on Clark, and she discussed what was found on his cellphone after the shooting. She kept suggesting that Clark was despondent at the time of the shooting, but she did not go so far as to say he may have been trying to commit suicide by cop. When a reporter directly asked her if that was what she was implying, she said no.
“At the time the officers pursued Mr. Clark, they were unaware of his identity and his relationship to the homeowners. Based upon the facts known to the officers at that time, the suspect presented a potential danger to the residents of that home. Mr. Clark not only failed to comply with the officers’ lawful demands, he took a shooting stance and advanced towards the officers. Believing that he had a gun in his hand, the officers shot Mr. Clark,” the legal review summary says.
Just as the officers did not know that it was Clark’s grandparents’ home, Clark did not know they were police officers. Again, where was the consideration for that?
Schubert’s office determined that because Clark allegedly took a shooting stance and the officers saw a flash of light coming from his direction in the otherwise pitch-black darkness of the backyard, and because they believed that flash to be from a gun, and because Clark supposedly advanced toward them after they took cover, “both officers honestly and reasonably believed Stephon Clark was pointing a gun at them and was about to shoot or had already shot at them.”
The DA’s office says this is supported by the statements the officers made immediately after the shooting. Those statements were captured on body-worn cameras.
The DA’s office said in conclusion:
The evidence in this case demonstrates that both officers had an honest and reasonable belief that they were in imminent danger of death or great bodily injury. Therefore, the shooting of Mr. Clark was lawful and no criminal charges will be filed.
Stephon Clark’s death was a tragedy that has had a devastating impact on his family and our community. A young man lost his life and many lives have been irreversibly changed. No decision or report will restore Stephon Clark’s life.
The fact that criminal charges are not appropriate under the law in this case in no way diminishes the frustrations and anger that many in our community have expressed since his death. Those who have raised their voices deserve to be heard. These are trying times, but in moments like these we must rise together to make our community a better place for everyone.
So, in summation: No justice. No peace.
Just more murdering police.