The California attorney general’s office on Tuesday joined an investigation into the fatal police shooting of an unarmed black man in Sacramento, a move the police chief said he hopes will bring “faith and transparency” to a case that has sparked angry protests.
City officials and community leaders called for calm as they announced the attorney general’s involvement while Sacramento prepares for events memorializing 22-year-old Stephon Clark, where large crowds are expected.
“Due to the nature of this investigation, the extremely high emotions, anger and hurt in our city, I felt it was the best interest of our entire community, including the members of our police department, to ask the attorney general to be an independent part of this investigation,” Police Chief Daniel Hahn said.
Two Sacramento police officers responding to a report of someone breaking car windows fatally shot Clark in his grandmother’s backyard March 18. Police say they thought Clark was holding a gun, but he was found with only a cellphone.
Attorney General Xavier Becerra’s office will provide oversight of the investigation and conduct a review of the police department’s policies and use-of-force training. Body camera footage released by the department shows police firing 20 rounds at Clark.
But Clark’s family remains skeptical, said his uncle, Curtis Gordon.
“We’ll see what happens,” Gordon said. “It’s all talk at this point … Show me.”
The decision of whether to bring criminal charges against the officers involved remains with District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert, although Becerra said his office could also bring charges.
“Understand that this process will take time,” Schubert said. “Thorough and fair independent review demands that we do it right.”
Clark’s grandmother, Sequita Thompson, called Monday for the police to change how they apply force in such situations and to consider non-lethal options.
“We fully expect that the attorney general’s office will do a complete and thorough investigation that is fair and impartial — and that extends due process not just to those being investigated, but equally to the family of Stephon Clark,” family attorney Benjamin Crump said in a statement.
Hahn said the two officers, whose names the department has not released, are facing death threats. He asked that protests remain peaceful as the investigation proceeds.
It is rare for police officers to be charged following a shooting and rarer still for them to be convicted. Often times it’s because of the doctrine of reasonable fear: if prosecutors or jurors believe that officers have a reason to fear for their safety, they can use force up to and including lethal force.
On different occasions, protesters have taken over downtown Sacramento and the South Sacramento neighborhood where Clark was killed. At one point, protesters shut down the interstate during rush hour and blocked the entrance to a Sacramento Kings basketball game. The protests have largely remained non-violent although tensions have been high. In one case, several protesters smashed a car window, according to the Sacramento Bee.
“Just as your actions have been positive in getting people to hear the message, negative actions will dilute that message,” said Dr. Ollie Mack, a longtime Sacramento resident who spoke at the news conference to encourage peaceful protest. “If you have people jumping on cars, spitting on people, that will be the news and not the fact that we’re moving forward toward seeking justice.”
Black Lives Matter Sacramento is organizing more demonstrations Tuesday at the district attorney’s office and at the city council meeting. The group says protesters are calling for Schubert to bring criminal charges against the officers who killed Clark.
The NAACP and the National Action Network said a two-hour funeral and burial for Clark is set to begin at 11 a.m. Thursday at St. Mary Cemetery & Funeral Center in Sacramento. The Rev. Al Sharpton, president of the National Action Network, is set to speak along with other clergy.
The NAACP said a wake is set from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. Wednesday at Bayside of South Sacramento Church.
Mayor Darrell Steinberg urged the city to set a positive national example.
“The country is watching us,” he said. “Let us show how a city in pain together, with all of our partners, can in fact achieve a better way.”