Sacramento Will Pay $1.7 Million to Parents of Unarmed Man Gunned Down by Police
It was a tragedy that should be unimaginable, but unfortunately is the kind of real-life horror show that happens way too often: Stephon Clark, then 22, was standing next to his grandparents’ home in Sacramento in 2018 when he was fatally shot by police.
Police were in the neighborhood responding to a call about an individual smashing car windows when they came across Clark. Believing he had a gun, cops shot Clark as many as eight times, killing him, according to the New York Times. Clark was unarmed, and holding only a cell phone.
According to a timeline compiled by local news channel KCRA, body camera footage from the officers showed their split-second decision which cost Clark his life. The officers confronted him, yelling “show me your hands!” Then likely before he had time to react, they followed up with yelling “gun, gun gun!” They then fired at Clark 20 times, hitting him at least seven times mostly in the back. A police helicopter was also flying low overhead.
The video shows that Clark had been standing in the driveway of his grandparents’ house and then climbed over a fence into the backyard as the officers approached him. The shooting occurred within about five seconds of the encounter.
The death of Clark, who was Black, prompted widespread protests throughout the city and led to the state raising a legal standard for when police can use deadly force. Now, police in the state only may use deadly force when it is “necessary in defense of human life.” Previously, the standard was when “reasonable,” which is far less specific.
New policies were also implemented by the Sacramento Police Department regarding foot chases of suspects. Officers are now required to start their body cameras and explain their reasons for the pursuit as the chase begins. They are also no longer allowed to turn off their mics, which occurred when Clark was shot.
Investigations by city, county, state and federal agencies found, however, that the cops who killed Clark were acting within the scope of their duties, and they received no punishment. As of August 2022, they still remained employed by the department, according to the New York Times.
But a federal civil rights and wrongful death lawsuit filed on behalf of Clark’s family against the city did yield results. In August, Sacramento agreed to pay $1.7 million to Clark’s parents over their son’s killing. This is in addition to an earlier settlement of $2.4 million the city agreed to pay to Clark’s two young children, who were aged 2 and 5.
Sadly, killings by police officers in the U.S. have continued to rise in the U.S. since Clark’s death. According to MappingPoliceViolence.org, police killed 1,144 people in the country in 2021, up from 1,133 in 2020 and 1,096 in 2019. Black people are almost 3 times as likely to be killed by cops as white people. Black people are also more likely than white people to be shot by police officers while trying to flee.
Use of excessive force by police is a violation of your Constitutional rights, and police departments can be liable for monetary damages owed to victims. But most of the time you have to file a lawsuit in order to hold these departments and individual officers accountable. That is why it is important to speak to an experienced attorney if you believe you are a victim, or a family member is a victim, of excessive use of force.