California Attorney General declines to charge officers who killed Stephon Clark

Xavier Becerra said video of the shooting showed Clark failed to follow commands


Senate Democrats - CC BY 2.0

Xavier Becerra, then the representative of California’s 34th congressional district, speaks at a congressional Democrat press conference on June 25, 2015. As California attorney general, Becerra announced Tuesday, March 5, that California’s Department of Justice would not press charges against the Sacramento police officers that shot and killed Stephon Clark.

Francina Sanchez and Cory Jaynes

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra announced Tuesday he will not be filing charges against the officers involved in the fatal shooting of Stephon Clark.

After the announcement from Becerra, two different federal oversight investigations into the Sacramento Police Department were announced via a pair of press releases the same day.

The investigation from the FBI and U.S Attorney McGregor W. Scott will review if Stephon Clark’s federal rights were violated by the shooting. The second independent investigation into the shooting death of Stephon Clark is from the Department of Justice.

Becerra held a news conference to go over the independent investigation that was conducted by the Department of Justice by request of Sacramento Police Chief Daniel Hahn.

This comes after Sacramento District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert announced on Saturday that there would be no charges filed against Terrance Mercadal and Jared Robinet, officers who shot and killed Clark.  

RELATED: No charges filed against officers who shot and killed Stephon Clark

When asked if there was strategic planning to announce the DOJ’s conclusion of the investigation close to the district attorney’s announcement to prevent outrage in the future, Becerra said, “I made sure that the team gave me the sense that we were ready. I think that we have are all the elements of a report that we feel confident on.”

Clark was shot and killed nearly a year ago in the backyard of his grandparents’ house on March 18, 2018, when Sacramento Police officers believed he was armed and a threat.  

“This investigation was based on the sole purpose of whether there was a basis to file charges against the officers,” Becerra said in regard to whether the DOJ investigated the department’s practices.

RELATED: Sacramento Police Department will implement new practices after investigation

Becerra gave an account of what happened prior to the shooting to make details of the events clear to the public.

He said the officers were there on a 911 call and not there on their own. The officers “encountered a rapidly developing situation” after Clark refused multiple commands, he said.

Becerra said video evidence was crucial in coming to a decision because it’s evidence that cannot be disputed.

“It’s the video showing us what’s happening,” Becerra said. “We did it by the book and it will be open and transparent for you to read.”

In Schubert’s announcement, she said an investigation through Clark’s phone and internet history led her department to believe “many things were weighing heavily” during the night of his death.

When Becerra was asked what he believed Clark was thinking of the night he was killed, he said, “it would be unfair to place myself in Clark’s mind.”  

When asked what he would say to those who do not believe in the criminal justice system  Becerra said things have gotten a lot better and believes the Sacramento Police Department could become a model department.

“I hear, I believe it, there was a time when I felt like that myself,” Becerra said.

He said he knows this is not the way the Clark family wanted things to end but thanked Clark’s mother for talking to him prior to the news conference.

“I wanted to make sure I had the opportunity to visit Mrs. Clark, the Clark family before releasing the reporting,” Becerra said.

He said this was not an easy call to make but hopes that in the end Clark’s death can be remembered for bringing change.

Federal agencies announce independent investigations

The Department of Justice investigation is at the request of Hahn, Sacramento Police Department Chief, according to a news release.

In a statement from the Sacramento Police Department FBI Special Agent Sean Ragan said that the FBI waited until state and local authorities had investigated the shooting before they started their investigation.

“U.S. Attorney’s Office and the FBI, in conjunction with the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, will examine whether the shooting involved violations of Mr. Clark’s federal civil rights,” Ragan said in the statement.

“Every set of independent eyes on this case adds to our understanding and our ability to improve how we police our community,” Hahn said in the statement.

After the review is complete, the Sacramento Police Department will conduct a review of their policies and will share this information as soon as it is completed.