An autopsy conducted on Stephon Clark, an African-American man who was shot when the phone in his hand was mistaken for a gun by police in Sacramento, has revealed that he was hit eight times in his back, raising eyebrows on the police version. According to the independent autopsy conducted by Dr Bennet Omalu, Clark was shot three times in his lower back, twice near his right shoulder, once in his neck and once under an armpit. He was also shot in the leg. Moreover, the report also said Clark’s death was “not instantaneous,” and the father of two was alive for three to ten minutes after being shot.
The findings contradict the version of the police, who had said the 22-year-old was charging towards them, following which they opened fire. The new development comes on the back of widespread protests in California and beyond, demanding police reforms. The incident has reignited the call to end what activists say is institutionalised racism among US police forces.
How was Stephon Clark killed?
Stephon Clark was shot dead on March 18 outside his grandmother’s backyard in Sacramento by police responding to a report that someone was breaking car windows. The person who gave the tip off reported the suspect was a man wearing a black hooded sweatshirt and that he ran into a backyard. A police helicopter alerted the police about a man in the backyard of a nearby home who purportedly was trying to break the window of a home using a tool bar. The officers on the ground eventually found Clark in the backyard and told him to show his hands. Seconds later, they fired their weapons 10 times each. Police said the officers who shot at Clark feared he was holding a firearm and advanced towards them, but it was revealed later that the young father was only holding a mobile phone.
Video showed officers shouting at Clark after the shooting. “We need to know if you’re OK,” an officer yelled about three minutes after the gunfire ended. “We need to get you medics but we can’t go over to get you help unless we know you don’t have a weapon.” The two police officers involved in the shooting have been put on administrative leave as per the standard procedure.
Autopsy contradicts police version
The autopsy – commissioned by the family of Clark and conducted by Dr Bennet Omalu, a private medical examiner – finds glaring inconsistencies in the police version. While police said Clark had charged towards them, the autopsy has found the 22-year-old was shot eight times, mostly in his back. He was shot three times in his lower back, twice near his right shoulder, once in his neck and once under an armpit. He was also shot in the leg.
The neck wound was from the side and the shot to the leg hit Clark in the front, apparently fired after he was already falling. Omalu described severe damage to Clark’s body, including a shattered vertebrae, a collapsed lung and an arm broken into bits. The autopsy suggested that Clark lived for three to 10 minutes after the shooting, while medical assistance did not arrive until about six minutes after the incident.
An autopsy conducted by the Sacramento County Coroner earlier this week on Clark’s body determined the cause of death as multiple gunshot wounds, and the manner of death was homicide, according to a preliminary autopsy report.
Protests bring Sacramento to a standstill
Protesters in California’s capital have taken to the streets nearly every day since Clark was killed on March 18, demanding that the city’s leadership fire the two officers involved. Clark’s family has accused the police department of trying to cover up misconduct by its officers and decided to conduct its own autopsy. At his funeral on Thursday, hundreds of mourners gathered, including others from the Blacks Lives Matter movement. Clark’s brother, Stevante, pleaded with supporters not to forget his brother. Families of people killed by police marched in Compton, a city in Los Angeles county, calling for more transparency in use-of-force investigations. What drew more outrage was the reaction of the White House. Spokeswoman Sarah Sanders called Clark’s shooting a “local matter” that should be left up to local authorities, and her comments drew a lot of flak from people.
Sacramento police chief Daniel Hahn has requested assistance from the California Department of Justice, headed by Attorney General Xavier Becerra, to join the department’s investigation as an independent party. The Supreme Court has sided with the police in fatal shootings if it is shown that officers reasonably believe their lives were in danger.