The two Sacramento police officers who fatally shot Stephon Clark will not face charges, authorities announced Saturday. Clark, 22, was shot last year while holding a cellphone that police mistook for a gun.
Police pursued Clark as a vandalism suspect on March 18, 2018. Directed by a law enforcement helicopter, two officers came to a corner and saw Clark holding an object and fired 20 shots in his direction. He was killed in his grandparents’ backyard.
In a news conference Saturday, Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schub said the lethal use of force used by the officers was lawful.
“We must recognize that they are often forced to make split-second decisions and we must recognize that they are under tense, uncertain and rapidly evolving circumstances,” she said.
Brian Panish, an attorney representing Clark’s children, issued a statement Saturday saying the Sacramento district attorney had decided to advocate for the officers rather than Clark. “The City has once again failed Stephon Clark, his family and the people of Sacramento,” Panish said in the statement.
The shooting had sparked outrage in the city and demonstrations that were largely peaceful, yet disruptive to heavy traffic areas and NBA games. The city said it was bracing for more protests ahead of the decision.
Schubert said the decision not to file charges against the officers “does not diminish in any way the tragedy, the anger and the frustration that we heard since the time of his death.”
Clark’s family, including his two sons, his parents and his grandparents, filed a wrongful death lawsuit in January seeking more than $20 million from the city, Officers Terrance Mercadal and Jared Robinet, alleging that the officers used excessive force and that he was a victim of racial profiling.
In a news conference Saturday, the city’s mayor, Darrell Steinberg, said the department must complete its internal review before the chief makes a recommendation on whether or not the city should fire the officers.
“As you know, the city council does not have the authority, nor the mayor, to make that decision. I would prejudice the potential and possibility of discipline if I were to comment at this point on that and that’s the truth,” Steinberg said.
Use-of-force experts have said there was little chance the officers would face criminal charges under court decisions that let officers use deadly force when they have a reasonable fear of being harmed. The standard makes it rare for officers to be charged after a shooting and rarer still for them to be convicted.
Clark’s shooting helped prompt pending state legislation that would allow police to use deadly force only if there is no reasonable alternative, including non-lethal force or efforts to calm the situation.