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California's AG to oversee investigation of Stephon Clark's killing in Sacramento

Officials have tried to reassure critics, including Clark's family, that the investigation will be fair and transparent.
by Jon Schuppe /  / Updated 
Image: Xavier Becerra, Daniel Hahn, Darrell Steinberg
Sacramento Police Chief Daniel Hahn, center, flanked by California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, left, and Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg, speaks during a news conference on Tuesday in Sacramento, California.Rich Pedroncelli / AP

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As protests continued to roil California's capital city, the state's top law enforcement official said Tuesday that his office would oversee the investigation into the police killing of Stephon Clark and conduct a separate review of the Sacramento Police Department's policies on use of force.

The moves were in response to an invitation from Sacramento Police Chief Daniel Hahn, who has tried to reassure critics, including Clark's family, that the investigation will be fair and transparent.

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The goal, state Attorney General Xavier Becerra said at a news conference, is not to take over the case but "to give people confidence to know this investigation was done properly."

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Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg said the city stood at a crossroads and he hoped that its handling of the shooting would make it a model for the rest of the country.

"These days and weeks and months can also become the moment when the city and country asked and answered the question: Isn’t there a better way?" he said.

Image: Black Lives Matter protesters hold their fists in the air during a demonstration
Black Lives Matter protesters during a demonstration on Friday in Sacramento, California.Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

As he spoke, protesters were planning to converge outside the office of Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert, who is leading the investigation.

Schubert said she welcomed the state's oversight, and promised "a full, fair and independent review of the shooting" and to "follow the facts and the law."

Becerra, a Democrat, and Schubert, a Republican, are both running for election this year. They have pledged to work together.

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Clark, 23, a black father of two, was shot to death on the night of March 18 by officers responding to reports of a man smashing car windows. The police department released footage from the officers' body cameras, which shows that the officers chase Clark, corner him in a backyard and fire 20 shots at him. The footage captures officers saying they believed that the suspect was armed; one shouts "Gun! Gun! Gun!" before they open fire. No weapon was found, only a cellphone.

The videos continue as the officers depart the backyard and backup arrives. At one point, one says, "Hey, mute," and the videos' audio goes silent. Critics have seized on that move as reason to suspect an attempted cover-up. Police say the investigation will include why the officers muted their cameras.

Hahn has noted the speed at which those videos were made public as a sign that the city is embracing reforms implemented in the aftermath of a 2016 police killing of a man holding a pocket knife. But he has also acknowledged that the muting of the body cameras in Clark's death has challenged the public's trust.

Benjamin Crump, the lawyer representing Clark's family, has said exactly that.

"The family feels that the muting of the mics suggests they were up to something nefarious; to them it suggests they were conspiring to be deceitful," Crump said in a statement.

Tanya Faison, founder of the Sacramento chapter of Black Lives Matter, said at a news conference later Tuesday that the attorney general’s involvement did not guarantee a fair investigation. She called for a review by an independent team of civilian investigators, like the Sacramento Community Police Review Commission.

"They need to be the ones in charge,” Faison said, “because we’re their bosses and it needs to look like that.”

Faison also rebuked officials who called for protesters to stay peaceful. She and other Black Lives Matter representatives argued that protesters were reacting to a history of violence against black Americans by police. “Don’t tell us how to fight you. Don’t tell us what we need to do next,” Faison said.

Hahn has not yet authorized the public release of the officers' names, saying that they have received death threats and that providing such information could endanger them.

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