Gun violence in the US

Community outrage mounts as autopsy challenges police account of fatal Sacramento shooting of Stephon Clark

Dr Bennet Omalu determined Clark was shot seven times from behind and took three to 10 minutes to die. Officers waited about five minutes before rendering medical aid

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 31 March, 2018, 3:59pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 31 March, 2018, 4:01pm

Sacramento police shot Stephon Clark seven times from behind, according to autopsy results released on Friday by a pathologist hired by Clark’s family, a finding that calls into question the department’s assertion the 22-year-old black man was facing officers and moving toward them when he was killed.

Dr Bennet Omalu also determined Clark took three to 10 minutes to die. Police waited about five minutes before rendering medical aid.

“The proposition that has been presented that he was assailing the officers, meaning he was facing the officers, is inconsistent with the prevailing forensic evidence,” Omalu said at a news conference with family lawyer Benjamin Crump.

He said it was not clear if Clark would have survived had he got immediate medical attention.

Sacramento police responded with a brief statement that said the department had not yet received an official autopsy report from the Sacramento County coroner’s office. It said the coroner’s death investigation is independent from the investigation being conducted by police and the state Department of Justice.

A day after the March 18 shooting, police distributed a press release that said the officers who shot Clark “saw the suspect facing them, advance forward with his arms extended, and holding an object in his hands”.

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Police video of the shooting does not clearly capture all that happened after Clark ran into his grandmother’s backyard. He initially moved toward the officers, who are peeking out from behind a corner of the house, but it is not clear he is facing them or that he knows they are there when they open fire after shouting “gun, gun, gun”.

After 20 shots, officers call to him, apparently believing he might still be alive and armed. They eventually approach and find no gun, just a cellphone.

The shooting has produced almost daily angry but peaceful protests in the downtown area of California’s capital city. The autopsy heightened calls for justice and scepticism toward police among community activists.

“Generally speaking, part of the outrage in the community is not only for this shooting but it’s for all police shootings that are happening of unarmed people,” said Dale Galipo, another Clark family lawyer. “One of the big questions we all have to ask is: ‘What do we need to do for these shooting to stop?’”

Black Lives Matter Sacramento planned a protest Friday night outside City Hall and other actions were possible.

“You’ll probably see a little bit of everything,” said Berry Accius, a community activist. “But that’s not for me to say, it’s for the people to decide.”

Governor Jerry Brown issued his first statement on the situation on Friday, calling it a tragic death that “raises a number of very serious questions and I support the California Attorney General’s independent oversight of the investigation”.

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Police were called to the South Sacramento neighbourhood on March 18 after a neighbour reported someone was breaking car windows. A police helicopter identified a suspect, who ran as police on the ground gave chase.

The helicopter video shows the two officers at the corner of Clark’s grandmother’s house and Clark on the backyard patio. He moves toward the officers’ position as they peer around the corner and open fire. Clark staggers sideways and falls on his stomach as officers continue shooting.

Omalu, whose study of a degenerative brain condition in American football players prompted the NFL to adopt new safety rules designed to prevent concussions, said any of the six bullets that hit Clark in the back and one in the neck could have been the fatal shot. An eighth bullet went into Clark’s thigh.

The autopsy was released a day after an emotional funeral service. Reverend Al Sharpton delivered the eulogy and praised demonstrators for their restraint and urged them to follow the lead of the Martin Luther King Jnr and his advocacy of non-violent protest.

Later in the day, police in riot gear stood waiting outside the Golden 1 Centre as fans wove through barricades and fencing to enter a Sacramento Kings-Indiana Pacers game. Twice since the shooting, demonstrators had blocked thousands of fans from entering the area.

But protesters did not come to the arena on Thursday night, heeding calls from Clark’s brother, Stevante Clark, and Black Lives Matter organisers to avoid the arena.

Instead, they blocked rush hour traffic on nearby downtown streets.

The Kings and their owner have supported the family.

Players Vince Carter, Garrett Temple and Doug Christie, a retired player, plan to appear Friday night at a youth forum staged as part of a new partnership with the Build Black Coalition and Black Lives Matter Sacramento to increase education and workforce training for black youth. Former Kings player Matt Barnes attended the funeral and helped pay for it.