Stephon Clark Was Shot in the Back: Autopsy

Stephon Clark
Stephon Clark

Results from a private autopsy released over the weekend revealed that Stephon Clark was struck with eight bullets, six of which went in his back.

Seven of the bullets struck the backside of Clark’s body, said forensic pathologist Dr. Bennet Omalu. According to Omalu, any of those seven bullets could have been fatal.

“Meaning that, out of all the seven, all he needed to have died was just one of the seven,” he said.

Protests have continued in California after the fatal shooting of Clark, 22, by two Sacramento Police Officers. Demonstrations escalated over the weekend after a sheriff’s department vehicle struck one activist and drove off.

Video taken by one witness shows two police cruisers attempting to get through the throng of protesters. The first one makes it past the crowd. The second one strikes 61-year-old Wanda Cleveland and continues driving.

Cleveland suffered minor injuries and was taken to the hospital.

“He never even stopped. It was a hit and run. If I did that I’d be charged,” Cleveland reported to the Sacramento Bee from the hospital. “It’s disregard for human life.”

Another protester and witness told the publication that the cruiser “sped off” after striking Cleveland. According to the Bee, Cleveland is active in the community, frequently attending city council meetings.

Black Lives Matter Sacramento tweeted:

Some people have noted differences in the handling of Clark’s shooting compared to other fatal police shootings of Black men, pointing out the transparency and swiftness that have accompanied the investigation. Body cam footage from the incident was released quickly. And on March 27 Police Chief Daniel Hahn announced that the California Department of Justice will be participating in the investigation.According to a DOJ press release, these investigations are usually handled at the local level by district attorneys. But Hahn requested the DOJ’s involvement.

Hahn is the city’s first Black chief of police. The department is about three-quarters white, 10.61 percent Hispanic, 7.77 percent Asian, 4.33 percent Black, 1.34 percent Filipino, 1.05 percent Native American, and than one percent other races, according to a 2016 internal report. The city of Sacramento is 33.6 percent white, 28.1 percent Hispanic, 18.1 percent Asian, 13.2 percent Black, 4.7 percent two or more races, 1.5 percent Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander, and less than 1 percent American Indian or another race.

Despite the well-intended behaviors now, though, the autopsy report suggests a lot of work remains to be done.

The shooting death of another Black man by the hands of the Sacramento Police Department shook the community less than two years ago. In July 2016 Joseph Mann, 50, was shot and killed by two Sacramento police officers. Dash cam audio from the incident reveals one officer saying he was going to hit Mann with his car, with the other officer encouraging him to do so. The officers missed twice and eventually shot 18 bullets, 14 of which hit Mann.

It took much longer for police to release any footage pertaining to the Mann shooting than for the Clark shooting, suggesting a change in the right direction. After Mann’s death several policies were reformed, including one that requires any department footage of certain incidents, including officer shootings, to be released within 30 days.

In Clark’s shooting, however, officers muted their body cams at some point following the shooting. It is not yet clear why they were instructed to do this.

Seth W. Stoughton, an assistant law professor, told CNN that officers may mute video in the aftermath of a shooting so that something they say during that time is not misconstrued.

“The inclination among officers, Stoughton said, is not to record footage of an officer unwinding moments after a shooting because officers may not phrase things in the right way,” CNN reported.

However, Stoughton also noted at that point to not record “may be undermining the investigation.”

Hahn said he was not sure why the volume was muted, telling KCRA it was “one of those things we have to talk about.”

Over the weekend Hahn called for the Clark shooting to be the catalyst for lasting change, not an incident that soon dies down.

“If we are going to truly get better, not just talk for a couple of weeks and let things slide, we have to get better together,” he said. “That means police, community organizations and community members.”

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