By Crescenzo Vellucci
Vanguard Sacramento Bureau
SACRAMENTO – Reactions were swift and furious Thursday to an official announcement that final investigations by federal authorities and the Sacramento Police Dept. found no culpability by the officers who killed Stephon Clark on March 18, 2018.
It was clear that many in the community didn’t agree that the officers should be cleared, and some said the outcome could lead to more trouble.
The Stephon Clark family and some community leaders were out of town Thursday, and unable to immediately respond – a movement spokesperson suggested SPD knew the family was unavailable and that’s why the announcement was made Thursday.
In fact, there was – as of Thursday night – no evidence of the sometimes wild protests that hammered the Sacramento area, closed down freeways, city and county streets, NBA ballgames and led to more than 100 arrests over the past year or so because of the Clark killing by SPD officers.
Eighty-four of the arrests came when city police, county deputies and CHP arrested demonstrators, clergy, news reporters and legal observers at the end of a peaceful march in East Sacramento, where the rich and powerful live – all other protests were downtown or in South Sacramento, near where Clark was killed. The East Sac arrests have spawned a massive civil rights suit.
SPD Thursday confirmed that officers Jared Robinet and Terrance Mercadal, who shot and killed unarmed Clark in the backyard of his grandparents’ house, were cleared and being sent back to street duty. They’ve been on desk duty since the shooting. SPD said the pair did not break SPD policy.
And, Thursday, it was announced that a federal civil rights inquiry was also reportedly closed. Earlier this year, the Sacramento County District Attorney also ruled that the officers would not be charged with a crime, even though Clark had no weapon. Officers claimed they thought his cell phone was a weapon.
In a statement released Thursday, SPD Chief Daniel Hahn said: “This incident has been thoroughly investigated by law enforcement agencies at the local, state and federal levels. Every one of these independent examinations has reached the same finding – the use of deadly force in this case was lawful. Our internal investigation concluded that there were no violations of department policy or training.”
Tanya Faison, founder of Black Lives Matter Sacramento, which organized most of the demonstrations over the past year or more over the Clark shooting, criticized the announcement Thursday, noting that officers were guilty of murder.
“I think it is a pretty clear sign of guilt when the City of Sacramento settles for $2.4 million with Stephon Clark’s children,” said Faison, adding “How many more Stephon Clarks do we have to have before our police department starts holding officers accountable instead of settling a lawsuit and calling it ‘justice.’”
And Sacramento for Black Lives said it stood with the family of Clark and “all of those who see the injustice when cops murder unarmed Black people. We are outraged by today’s announcement that Officers Jared Robinet and Terrence Mercadal are cleared of any wrongdoing in the murder of #StephonClark.”
The group added that “we have not wavered in seeking justice for Stephon,” recommending that the officers be “fired, charged and convicted…that is what justice, accountability and transparency look like when citizens who are not cops murder. And cops shouldn’t be treated any differently.”
Sacramento for Black Lives went on to say the announcement wasn’t a surprise, but “we still hurt by the reality that Black Lives don’t matter in Sacramento, throughout California, in the United States or throughout the world. Not only does this announcement lack accountability, it fails to offer the most vulnerable community members basic rights to humanity.
“We will not be silenced by, nor respect policies or elected officials who perpetuate the continuation of systemic oppression, trauma and racism. We will not be erased or eliminated from conversations that excludes the reality we are forced to face. We will continue to make this city uncomfortable and challenge the structures of white supremacy that continue to hold us back from racial equity. In the name and legacy of our now ancestor, Stephon Clark, we are committed to continuing the fight to break down the walls of racial oppression,” SBL concluded in a written statement.
SPD Police Chief Hahn also announced that the officers are returning to “full, active duty.” And that drew a response from a national lawyers association with chapters in 200 cities.
“We are not surprised at the news that those who killed Stephon Clark have been ‘cleared.’ It follows the trend across the country where officers are rarely charged and in the rare instances that they are charged, no liability is found by investigating agencies, who are either law enforcement or district attorneys, and have an inherent bias toward police,” said Elizabeth Kim, president of the National Lawyers Guild’s Sacramento Chapter.
“However, the Sacramento Police Department’s announcement to return the shooting officers who killed Stephon Clark back to full active street duty risks reviving feelings of pain in the activist community,” she warned.
“We strongly urge the Sacramento Police Department to re-consider its current policies and recognize the impact such a decision would have in Sacramento and throughout our nation. To return the officers to work after the killing of an unarmed black man sends a dangerous message that there are no consequences for excessive force by law enforcement,” Kim continued.
“As a matter of public policy, we urge (SPD) consider the ramifications this message will bear as a national and local standard for law enforcement practices. The Sacramento Police Department must rethink sending those officers back into the field in the shadow of Gov. Newsom’s signing of AB 392, the Excessive Force Bill,” she said.
The law takes effect Jan. 1 and is the first change in the standard of law enforcement’s use of deadly force in the state in more than a century.