Sacramento police shot 22-year-old Stephon Clark in the back seven times, according to an independent autopsy.
Clark’s family hired its own medical examiner to perform a second autopsy after expressing skepticism over the conclusions drawn by last week’s formal county review, which wasn’t released to the public. The results of the independent autopsy, announced in a press conference Thursday, revealed that Clark was shot 8 times in total and that he didn't advance toward the officers, as the department had said.
Clark, a father of two, was shot at 20 times while standing in his grandmother’s backyard, where he also lived, on March 18. The two officers present initially thought he had a gun and said he turned toward them after they ordered him to get on the ground. Then the department said he had a toolbar. But he was only carrying a cell phone.
“The proposition that he [Clark] was assailing the officers is inconsistent with the prevailing forensic evidence as documented in the autopsy,” said Bennet Omalu, a renowned pathologist who has done over 8,000 autopsies and has five board certifications. Omalu added that any one of the seven bullets that struck Clark in the back could have killed him.
The eighth bullet entered the front of Clark’s thigh either after he was on the ground or as he was falling, according to Omalu. “Given the human anatomy, it was less likely that he sustained such a wound when he was standing erect,” he said. “He received gunshot 8 when he had fallen.”
Omalu said that when the first bullet struck Clark, he was facing the house with the left side of his back toward the two officers. The impact of the first gunshot would have caused him to turn so that his back was fully toward the officers.
What’s more, Omalu said that Clark didn’t die instantaneously. He probably died anywhere between three and 10 minutes after being shot by the first bullet. That would mean that any delay to call an ambulance would have been crucial in whether Clark lived or died.
“The narrative put forward was that [the officers] had to open fire because [Clark] was charging at them,” the family’s lawyer Benjamin Crump said. “Well obviously, based on Dr. Omalu’s findings, it suggests all the bullets were from behind.”
The bullets perforated Clark's lungs, destroyed the blood vessels in his left arm, perforated his chest cavity, fractured the vertebrae, and caused injury to the spinal cord, according to the autopsy.
The Sacramento Police Department said it had not been provided with a copy of the autopsy and that the Sacramento Country Coroner's Office was conducting an investigation separate from the one being conducted by the police department and the California Department of Justice.
"Further comment by the Sacramento Police Department prior to the release of the Coroner’s report along with the official review by the Sacramento County District Attorney and the California Department of Justice would be inappropriate at this time," a spokesperson told VICE News. "We acknowledge the importance of this case to all in our community and we are committed to a thorough and comprehensive investigation."
The night of the shooting, officers had responded to reports of an individual breaking car windows with a toolbar. A helicopter from the Sacramento Sheriff’s Department overhead told officers on the ground that they could see the suspect, who was running into the yard of Clark's family home. Police ordered Clark to stop, but instead he fled.
Two officers finally confronted Clark in the backyard, and Clark turned and advanced toward them, according to the police department’s statement. The officers then shouted “Show me your hands!“ and “gun, gun gun,” body-worn camera footage released just days after the shooting showed.
“Fearing for their safety, the officers fired their duty weapons, striking the suspect multiple times,” the Sacramento Police Department said in a press release. After shooting Clark, the officers continued to shout “Show me your hands” and asked each other if they were OK or had been hit. After backup arrived, the officers also muted their body-worn cameras.
“They gunned him down like a dog,” Stevante Clark said at a press conference the week after his brother’s shooting. “They executed him.” Stevante and other members of Clark’s family kicked off days of protests by surrounding the Sacramento Kings arena last Thursday to call for action.
This past Tuesday, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra announced that the state’s Department of Justice would provide independent oversight to the local investigation into Clark’s death.
“The California Department of Justice will lend our experience to ensure the investigation into the tragic death of Stephon Clark is fair, thorough, and impartial,” said Becerra.
That announcement came after Betty Clark, president of the NAACP, joined Clark’s grandmother and other community leaders for a press conference on Monday, where she stressed that district attorneys’ close relationship to police departments makes it difficult for investigations into police misconduct to proceed with integrity.
Cover image: Screenshot from press conference.