Stephon Clark was shot multiple times from behind by Sacramento police, pathologist says
Findings raise questions about police account that Clark was approaching officers
Sacramento police shot Stephon Clark seven times from behind, according to autopsy results released Friday by a pathologist hired by Clark's family.
The findings call into question the police department's assertion that the 22-year-old black man was facing officers and walking toward them when he was killed on March 18.
Dr. Bennet Omalu, whose study of a degenerative brain condition in football players prompted the NFL to adopt new safety rules designed to prevent concussions, also concluded it took Clark up to 10 minutes to die.
Police officers, concerned Clark could be alive and armed, waited about five minutes to approach him after the shooting in his grandparents' backyard in Sacramento, Calif. Clark was not armed; police apparently mistook a cellphone in his hand for a gun.
"The proposition ... he was facing officers is inconsistent with prevailing forensic evidence," Omalu said at a news conference with family attorney Benjamin Crump.
He said it was not clear if Clark would have survived had he gotten immediate medical attention. He also noted that any of the six bullets that hit him in the back and one in the neck could have been the fatal shot. An eighth bullet went into Clark's thigh.
Sacramento police responded in a brief statement that said the department had not yet received the official report from the Sacramento County coroner's office. It noted that the coroner's death investigation is independent from the investigation being conducted by police and the state Department of Justice.
Video leaves unanswered questions
Video from Sacramento police officers' body cameras and a Sheriff's Department helicopter circling overhead show Clark's final moments but don't definitively answer the many questions that have arisen since the March 18 shooting.
Police said they were responding to reports that a man dressed in a hooded sweatshirt was breaking car windows. The helicopter video begins with a figure scaling a backyard fence.
"He just broke the window, running south, running to the south," says a deputy in the helicopter. The video does not show the figure break a window but police say a neighbour's sliding glass door was broken.
The suspect then approaches a vehicle parked alongside Clark's grandparents' house and appears to look inside.
The aerial video shows two police officers running up to the side of the house, one with an arm extended holding a handgun, as the man later determined to be Clark disappears from view into the backyard.
The two officers can be seen coming around the back corner of the house then retreating to the side of the home.
"Show me your hands — gun!" one officer yells, according to the body camera footage . It is dark and the body cameras briefly show the backyard with portions illuminated by the officers' flashlights, but Clark is not clearly visible in the body camera videos.
"Gun, gun, gun," one of the officers yells on body camera video before they begin shooting.
As Clark comes back into view from the circling helicopter, he appears to be moving toward the officers as the first visible muzzle flash is seen. He falls forward and to the side, catches himself on his outstretched arms and hands, crawls forward briefly then collapses on top of his hands.
It is not clear when he was first hit or if officers fired before the first visible muzzle flash, but the video shows the officers continue to shoot as Clark lies face down unmoving.
Omalu watched the helicopter video after conducting his autopsy and said the video is consistent with his findings.
The pathologist said Clark was likely facing the house when he was first shot, with the bullet hitting him on the back left side of his torso. The propulsion of the bullet would have been enough to spin his body around so his back was facing the officers, Omalu said, before being hit by subsequent bullets that dropped him to the ground.
He was then shot in the leg, either as he fell or while on the ground, Omalu said.
The 20 shots were fired in about five seconds and Clark makes no discernable movement once the shooting stops.
'Let them express and grieve'
The shooting has produced nearly daily angry but peaceful protests in the downtown area of California's capital city.
On Thursday, hours after creating an emotional interruption at his brother's funeral, Stevante Clark helped defuse tension by asking protesters not to block thousands of fans from entering a downtown NBA arena for a third night.
The Sacramento Kings and their owner have been supportive of the Clark family.
Police in riot gear stood waiting outside the Golden 1 Center as fans wove through barricades and fencing to enter a Sacramento Kings-Indiana Pacers game. But protesters never came, heeding calls from Stevante Clark and Black Lives Matter organizers to avoid the arena. Instead, they blocked rush hour traffic on nearby downtown streets.
West Sacramento resident Onyeabo Aduba, 33, said he cancelled reservations Thursday at a restaurant near the arena for his girlfriend's birthday because of the protests. But Aduba said he's supportive of the Black Lives Matter movement and is frustrated that efforts such as requiring police to wear body cameras haven't made real change.
Delivering Stephon Clark's eulogy Thursday, Rev. Al Sharpton praised demonstrators for their restraint and urged them to follow the lead of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and his advocacy of nonviolent protest.
"I want the folks in California to know that there's nothing wrong with how these young people are standing up," he thundered. "They're not being violent, they're asking for you to stop being violent to them."
More than 500 people packed into the church to celebrate Stephon Clark's life, remembering his dance moves, smarts and love for his two young sons.
Stevante Clark interrupted the musical and scriptural celebration by hugging and kissing the casket, leading the crowd in chanting his brother's name, pounding his chest and shouting. Others on the stage attempted to calm him, with limited success.
Sharpton hugged and consoled him and told the crowd not to judge how families grieve.
"This brother could be any one of us, so let them express and grieve," Sharpton said. "We are proud of them for standing up for justice."
Turning the focus nationally, Sharpton and others chastised U.S. President Donald Trump for failing to comment on police shootings of young black men. On Wednesday, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders was asked about the Clark shooting and demurred, referring to it as a local issue.