California Attorney General Xavier Becerra announced Tuesday that he won’t file criminal charges against the two Sacramento police officers who killed an unarmed black man while responding to a call for vandalism last March.
The California Department of Justice conducted an independent investigation into the shooting death of 22-year-old Stephon Clark and decided the officers acted lawfully.
"Our investigation has concluded that no criminal charges against the officers involved in the shooting can be sustained,'' Becerra said in a news conference in Sacramento.
Clark's killing, which followed a string of deadly confrontations between police and black men in other parts of the country, ignited protests that disrupted an NBA game and a city council meeting.
Demonstrations sparked anew in California’s capital the last few days after District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert announced Saturday that prosecutors wouldn’t charge officers Terrance Mercadal and Jared Robinet in Clark’s death.
Schubert said they mistook the cellphone in Clark’s hand for a gun and had reason to believe their lives were in danger when they shot him in his grandmother’s backyard on March 18, 2018.
After small protests Saturday and Sunday, the latter prompting the closing of Sacramento’s largest mall, a larger demonstration resulted in more than 80 arrests Monday. Sacramento Bee reporter Dale Kasler and three clergy members were among those arrested.
Before announcing his decision, Becerra met Tuesday morning with Clark's mother, SeQuette Clark. The family and activists against police brutality had been pressing for a different conclusion than what the DA's office reached.
“There is a lot of hurt in this community today, and certainly in the home of the Clark family,'' said Becerra, who called for unspecified changes in police practices to avoid or reduce future shootings.
"Our investigation can’t change what has happened, but we can make every effort to deliver a fair, thorough and impartial review, which we promised this community when we took on this investigation.’’
With the conclusion of the state and local investigations, U.S. Attorney McGregor Scott and Sean Ragan, who heads the FBI’s Sacramento office, said they and the U.S. Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division will review the results to see whether the officers violated Clark’s civil rights. Such reviews are standard practice, Scott spokeswoman Lauren Horwood said.
Sacramento police said they now will decide whether the officers violated any policies or procedures, which could result in their firings.
Becerra listed some of the critical facts that emerged from digital and video evidence and led to the decision not to charge the officers:
• Clark committed illegal acts that elicited the call to police, namely smashing car windows and breaking a neighbor's sliding glass door.
• He refused to follow the officers' commands to stop and raise his hands.
• Once spotted inside the backyard, Clark advanced significantly toward the officers.
• He was holding a shiny object the officers mistook for a weapon, prompting them to warn each other by yelling, "Gun.''
“On the video footage, we saw a bright light near Mr. Clark’s person. It was clear he had something in his hand,'' Becerra said, adding the officers began firing when they saw Clark advance and stopped almost immediately after he fell to the ground.
Becerra, who said he agreed to conduct the investigation at the urging of Sacramento Police Chief Daniel Hahn, reiterated time and again his office did not examine the DA’s investigation and decision not to charge the officers, nor did it review the police department’s policies and practices.
Instead, the state DOJ conducted a separate 11-month investigation to discover whether there was a basis to charge the officers with criminal conduct, and it found none.
Pointing out he was born and raised in Sacramento, Becerra acknowledged the ill feelings engendered by the case and others across the country that have resulted in young black men dying at the hands of the police.
“Nothing can bring back Stephon Clark, and nothing helps end the pain that his family carries,’’ Becerra said. "Our criminal investigation may be over, but our commitment to this community, to repairing trust between our peace officers and the people they’re sworn to protect goes on.’’
Contributing: The Associated Press
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: California attorney general won't charge police officers in Stephon Clark killing