Of the 20 shots officers fired at Stephon Clark, eight hit their target. The first six hit him in the back.
The worst fears of a still-grieving Sacramento were realized on Friday: The officers who gunned down Stephon Clark in his grandparents’ backyard opened fire on the unarmed black man as his back was turned to them.
This was the bombshell conclusion of a private family autopsy performed by Dr. Bennet Omalhu, a veteran pathologist with a reputation for waging David vs. Goliath battles against institutions like the National Football League and San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Department.
Of the 20 rounds two officers fired at Clark on the night of March 18, eight struck their target, Omalhu said during a press conference inside the lobby of the Southside Christian Center in south Sacramento. Six struck Clark from behind, with the first bullet entering his left side and spinning his body around in the backyard of his grandparents’ Meadowview home, where he was living at the time. An eighth bullet struck Clark’s left leg while he was down on the ground, Omalhu said.
Many of the bullet wounds had “lethal capacity,” Omalhu said, which isn’t the same as saying they were fatal. Omalhu said it took between three and 10 minutes for Clark to perish from massive internal injuries, including a wounded heart.
“Death was not instantaneous,” Omalhu noted.
Omalhu said he couldn’t say whether quick medical attention could have saved Clark’s life.
Clark lay on the ground for approximately five minutes as Officers Terrence Mercadal and Jared Robinet reloaded their weapons and waited for backup units to arrive. When those units did, Clark was handcuffed and provided medical care. But it was too late by then.
The damage to Clark’s body reportedly prevented a cermonial ritual from being performed on the Muslim convert during a March 29 memorial service.
#StephonClark was massacred. His body was in such bad shape that we couldn’t do the ritual washing (ghusl).
The brothers did a substitute ritual (tayammum) and are horrified by the sight.
We cannot allow this to keep happening.
— Omar Suleiman (@omarsuleiman504) March 29, 2018
Omalhu and Clark family attorney Ben Crump made clear that the findings of this independent autopsy contradicted the Sacramento Police Department’s account that Clark, a 22-year-old father of two, was advancing toward officers with a cellphone in his hand that they mistook for a gun.
“His back was facing the officers,” Omalhu said. “So 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, as documented at autopsy.”
The Police Department released a statement Friday saying it would be inappropriate to comment before the official coroner’s report is released and the county district attorney’s office completes its review of the shooting.
That could take a while.
The DA’s office still has yet to release a single review of an officer-involved shooting or in-custody death that occurred during the 2017 calendar year.
The results of the independent autopsy are already adding fuel to calls for the DA to charge the two officers responsible for Clark’s death with murder. Such prosecutions are extremely rare. The local DA’s office last prosecuted an officer-involved shooting during Bill Clinton’s first term. In 1992, an ATF agent was convicted of involuntary manslaughter for the accidental shooting of a fellow agent. Before that, in 1988, the DA’s office prosecuted a Folsom Prison guard for the nonfatal shooting of an inmate. The guard was acquitted.
Law enforcement officers are judged by a different legal standard than the public in these cases. Court rulings have made it so that the facts matter less than the officer’s perception of danger, which is why so few officers are charged with or convicted for unjusitifed killings.
There were several gasps and groans during Friday morning’s press conference, which was attended by African-American community leaders who were part of the new Build. Black coalition.
Before the press conference started, Pastor Les Simmons led attendees in a prayer for the Clark family, calling this “a lean-in moment” for all of Sacramento.
“This isn’t us versus them,” he said. “This is a we moment.”
After the devastating autopsy presentation, people milled through the Southside Christian Center’s lobby in a dazed state. An African-American man stood staring at one of two poster-boards illustrating the eight gunshot wounds to Clark’s body. Standing and staring for a long moment, he finally turned away with red eyes.
Outside, Pastor Simmons’ mother Deborah Simmons took the air and tried to collect herself. She said she was not prepared for what she saw inside that room.
“Just speechless,” she said softly. “Surprise and anger.”
A button on her coat signaled the new coalition she and others have created to drive political and financial investment in long-neglected communities of color. The “Build. Black” button conveyed a promise of a more equitable future not yet here.
Then, eyes still glistening, Deborah Simmons smiled and walked away.