Police in Sacramento, Calif. are facing stiff criticism after officers on the south side of the city fatally shot an unarmed 22-year-old Black man.
According to reports, police fired upwards of 20 shots at Stephon Clark Sunday night after responding to a call that a man in a hoodie had been breaking into cars. After initiating a search for the suspect, deputies in a helicopter allegedly spotted a man who fit the description and directed officers on the ground to Clark, who was standing in his grandparents’ yard.
An initial press release from Sacramento police claimed they confronted Clark in his grandparents’ yard, where he’d been living for the past month, and asked him to “stop and show his hands.” The police account states that Clark then fled to the back of the residence where he was once again met by deputies and “turned and advanced towards the officers while holding an object which was extended in front of him.”
While officers at the scene claimed they believed Clark was holding a gun and they “[feared] for their safety,” police later admitted that the father of two was actually clutching a cell phone.
Clark’s grandmother, Sequita Thompson, was home when the shooting occurred and said she never heard officers identify themselves.
“The only thing that I heard was pow, pow, pow, pow, and I got to the ground,” Thompson recalled. “I opened that curtain and he was dead. I started screaming.”
Community activists have called on police to conduct a full investigation into the incident.
“This is a moment of truth,” Berry Accius, a community activist, told the Sacramento Bee. “This is definitely where transparency, accountability and justice are really going to be put in full display with this new regime of policing. I think a lot of us in the community have been told there will be a whole other way of how the police in Sacramento police the community, especially black and brown people, and this will be the test.”
The two officers involved in the fatal shooting have been placed on paid administrative leave while officials conduct an investigation into the encounter. According to police, the deputies were wearing body cameras during the incident and that video will be released to the public in accordance with a 2016 policy enacted to increase transparency.
Clark leaves behind a partner, Salena Manni, and the couple’s two young sons, 3-year-old Aiden and 1-year-old Cairo. While the officers involved in the shooting claimed they feared for their safety, Manni said Clark would have never put himself in danger.
“I know for a fact he was so scared, scared for his life,” she said. “He had too much to lose… he would never want to leave his kids.”