Feds won't pursue charges against officers in Stephon Clark's shooting death

Federal authorities said they found insufficient evidence to support federal criminal civil-rights charges in the killing of Stephon Clark in Sacramento.

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By Phil Helsel

Federal authorities will not pursue civil rights charges against two Sacramento police officers involved in the fatal shooting of an unarmed black man in 2018, officials said Thursday.

The U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of California and the FBI said in a statement Thursday that a federal review "found insufficient evidence to support federal criminal civil rights charges" against the officers involved in the fatal shooting of Stephon Clark, 22.

"Accordingly, the investigation into this incident has been closed," the Justice Department said in a statement, calling the review careful and thorough.

The March 18, 2018, shooting sparked protests. In early March, Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert announced that the two officers involved would not be charged.

Stephon ClarkCourtesy Sonia Lewis

The shooting took place in Clark’s grandmother’s backyard following reports someone was breaking car windows. The two officers said they believed Clark had a gun and was in a shooting stance before they fired, but only a cellphone was found.

Members of Clark’s family said Thursday they would continue their fight for justice. They met with the FBI, Sacramento police and the Justice Department about the decision.

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"We still want people to be held accountable,” Clark’s brother, Stevante Clark, said at a news conference.

"We will continue to fight for justice," he said. "Justice delayed is justice denied, and today, justice was denied for Stephon Clark — for the third time."

Schubert said in March when announcing no charges would be filed that body camera and other evidence showed that one of the officers shouted at Clark to show his hands, that they took cover during the incident and that they saw a flash of light that one officer believed was the muzzle flash of a gun and the other thought was light reflecting off a gun.

Statements made by the officers asking whether the other was hit seconds after the shooting "support the belief that they honestly, without hesitation believed he had a gun," Schubert said at the time.

She also said that body camera video showed a flash of light and that helicopter video showed that Clark was advancing on the officers before he was shot.

Stevante Clark said Thursday that “[the] Sacramento Police Department should know the difference between a gun and a cellphone, and my brother should be alive and with us today.”

Police were called on a report of someone breaking car windows on 29th Street around 9 p.m. that night, and DNA showed that person was Clark, Schubert said in March.

Two officers responded to the backyard where Clark was, ordered him to show his hands and one officer yelled “gun” before he was shot, body camera video appeared to show.

The Justice Department said Thursday that the federal review was comprehensive and included a review of all the evidence, including witness statements and video recordings, and that it is committed to investigating allegations of excessive force by police.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra in March also said that an independent investigation found no criminal charges against the officers could be sustained.

California last month updated its laws governing the police use of deadly force. The state's old standard made it rare for police officers to be charged following a shooting and was based on the doctrine of "reasonable fear," meaning if prosecutors or jurors believed officers had a reason to fear for their safety, they could use lethal force, the Associated Press reported.

The new law, which takes effect Jan. 1, will allow police to use deadly force only when "necessary" to defend against an imminent threat of death or serious injury to officers or bystanders.

Sacramento Police Chief Daniel Hahn said in a statement Thursday that an internal review found no violations of departmental training, but "we are committed to implementing strategies that may prevent similar tragedies in the future."

The two officers who were involved will return to full, active duty, Hahn said. He said his heart goes out to Clark's family and that the tragedy "will always have a profound effect on our Department and Community as a whole."

"We are forever dedicated to finding reasonable alternatives that may prevent similar tragedies," Hahn said in the statement.

Associated Press contributed.