Calif. DOJ joins investigation into fatal OIS of Stephon Clark
AG Xavier Becerra and Chief Daniel Hahn announced an agreement that they hoped would help instill calm in the city
By Nicole Santa Cruz, Paige St. John and Alene Tchekmedyian
Los Angeles Times
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — State and local authorities moved to defuse tensions over the fatal shooting of Stephon Clark on Tuesday by promising independent oversight of the police investigation, but frustrations in Sacramento continued to build, with protesters swarming City Hall to demand that the officers who shot the unarmed black man be held accountable.
More than 100 protesters marched from the Sacramento County district attorney's office to City Hall on Tuesday evening, holding signs with messages such as "Sac PD: Stop killing us!" and "Not a gun. It was a cell phone." After they reached the City Council chamber, police officers in ballistic helmets stood by, at one point forming a line to keep the room from overcrowding.
Inside, 10-year-old Terrell Wilson addressed the City Council. In tears, he said he feared the police.
"All he had was a cellphone," Terrell said. "Twenty shots over a cellphone."
As he spoke, the crowd stood and applauded. Soon after, about 8:20 p.m., demonstrators banged on the chamber windows, there was some pushing and shoving, and one man was arrested on suspicion of assaulting an officer and being drunk in public, Sgt. Vance Chandler said. The meeting, which was supposed to run until 11 p.m., ended early.
Chandler also said protesters stormed the doors of the Golden 1 Center during a Sacramento Kings game, prompting officials to close arena doors to fans for a second time since the shooting.
Two officers shot Clark a week ago in his grandmother's backyard.
On Tuesday morning, state Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra and Sacramento Police Chief Daniel Hahn announced an agreement that they hoped would help instill calm in the city. It calls for the state Justice Department to play two roles: to provide independent oversight of the investigation into the shooting and to review Sacramento's police training and policies on the use of force.
"I have complete confidence in my detectives, but due to the nature of this investigation, the extremely high emotion, anger and hurt in our city, I felt it was in the best interest of our entire community, including the members of our Police Department," Hahn said. "Our city is at a critical point right now, and I believe this will help build faith and confidence."
Becerra promised that the reports would be "based on the fact and the law, nothing more and nothing less."
"My team and I … will do everything in our power to ensure this investigation is fair, thorough and impartial," he said at a news conference Tuesday backed by black fraternity and sorority members.
The fraternity and sorority members said they had come to support Sacramento's black community, as well as Hahn, the city's first African American police chief.
The state Justice Department's oversight will not affect Sacramento County Dist. Atty. Anne Marie Schubert's review of the Police Department's final report or the decision on whether to press criminal charges against the two officers, Schubert said Tuesday.
"My job is to provide a full, fair, independent review of this shooting," she said. "At the end of the day, it will be based on facts and the law.… Understand, that process will take time."
After the March 18 shooting, police quickly released officer videos as well as radio transmissions. Several tense standoffs with police followed — including one that blocked Interstate 5 and another that prevented fans from getting into a Sacramento Kings basketball game — but officers were lauded widely for showing restraint and preventing an escalation of tensions.
The encounter that ended Clark's life began when Sacramento officers responded to a call about a man breaking into vehicles, authorities said. The caller said the man had broken car windows and was hiding in a backyard, according to the Police Department.
A Sacramento County Sheriff's Department helicopter spotted a man in a backyard and directed police toward him, authorities said. Deputies told officers that the man had picked up a "toolbar" and broken the window of a home.
The man was seen running south, toward the front of the house, where he stopped and looked into another car, police said. Officers ordered him to stop and show his hands, but he ran. They chased him to the backyard, where, authorities say, he turned and advanced toward the officers holding what they thought was a gun.
Fearing for their safety, the officers fired their duty weapons, the department said. Clark, who was holding a cellphone, was pronounced dead at the scene.
In police videos, an officer is heard saying, "Hey, mute," before the sound cuts off.
Sacramento's police chief said the request to mute "builds suspicion" and is part of the investigation.
Mayor Darrell Steinberg began Tuesday's community meeting at City Hall by offering the council's condolences.
"In the days, weeks and months ahead, you will be heard. It is our job to hear your truth and calls for change," he said.
He then turned the microphone over to Councilman Larry Carr, who represents Meadowview, where Clark was killed. Carr spoke briefly before Stevante Clark burst into the chambers chanting his dead brother's name.
The mayor called a 15-minute break to allow the room to calm.
Inside the room, residents lined up to call for change and more investment in Sacramento's black community. Les Simmons, a pastor, told the council that a life is more than the cost of a few broken windows.
"Our folks are hurting. They need equity. They need investment," he said.
Barry Accius, an activist, told attendees to take their cellphones out and point them at the council.
"No property in this world is worth a life," he said.
Elijah Wallace, 13, of Sacramento said he is tired of seeing African Americans getting shot and killed.
"I think we should come together and make sure this violence stops," he said.
Darrell Roberts, who runs a community center, said that when a cop pulls up behind him, his hands tighten on the steering wheel in apprehension.
"It's time to do things that will really change this city," he said.
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