Police can’t keep their story straight about the unarmed black man they shot and killed in Sacramento

Police thought he had a gun. Then they said he had a toolbar. But he was only carrying a cell phone.
March 21, 2018, 10:00am

The Sacramento Police Department keeps changing its story about an unarmed black man two of its officers shot and killed in his own backyard on Sunday night.

First, the officers thought he had a gun. Then the department said he had a “toolbar.” Then on Monday night, police issued a final clarification: The suspect was carrying a cell phone.

The man, whom the Sacramento Bee identified as 22-year-old Stephon Clark, was fatally shot on his own property. Officers were responding to reports of a man breaking car windows near his house and said they initially believed the suspect was armed. In a statement released after the fatal shooting, however, police said the suspect had a “toolbar” that he’d allegedly been using to break into cars — not a gun.


It wasn’t until a full day later that police clarified the suspect had nothing on him that could have been perceived as a weapon. He was carrying a cell phone.

Officers said they spotted Clark from a helicopter, which they were using to look for the person who’d been reported to be breaking car windows. From the chopper, they say they saw a suspect break a car window and run into a yard that turned out to be Clark’s family home, according to police statements. Two officers pursued him there on foot.

They ordered Clark to stop and show his hands. When instead Clark turned around and fled instead, they pursued him. Officers then confronted him in the backyard, where the suspect "turned and advanced" toward them, according to the police statement. They thought he had a gun. Then, “fearing for their safety,” the officers fired multiple shots, which killed Clark.

“The only thing that I heard was pow, pow, pow, pow, and I got to the ground," Clark’s mother, Sequita Thompson, who was sitting in her living room inside the house, told the Sacramento Bee. She didn’t hear the officers’ commands. Her husband called 911 to report the shots, she said.

Several local authorities will investigate the shooting, including the Sacramento County District Attorney’s office and the city Office of Public Safety Accountability, according to the Bee. Body-cam footage of the incident will be released within 30 days.

About 120 Black Lives Matter activists and community members, including members of Clark’s family, gathered for a vigil on Monday, and started a GoFundMe to help with funeral expenses.

Clarification 3/22 9:36 a.m. ET: This post has been clarified to reflect the officers said the suspect "advanced" toward them.

Cover image: Police tape marks the scene of a shooting in Sacramento, California, June 10, 2012. Four people, including two ethnic Hmong shamans, were killed in a gang-related shooting in California's capital of Sacramento, officials and media said on Sunday. (REUTERS/Max Whittaker)