Sacramento DA Declines to Press Charges in Stephon Clark Case, Citing Belief that Jury Would not Convict Law Enforcement Responsible for His Death

Demonstrators Stephon Clark April in Sacramento
Image Credit Demonstrators carried an image of Stephon Clark last April at a rally in Sacramento.

No charges will be filed against law enforcement for the wrongful death of 22-year-old Stephon Clark, an unarmed black man who was shot eight times in his grandmother’s backyard a year ago in Sacramento.

District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert made her announcement over the weekend. In coming to her conclusion that no charges will be filed, Schubert shared context from outside of the incident, a move that incensed the Clark family and their supporters. His mother, Sequette Clark, insisted that a toxicology report and a text thread between her son and his girlfriend had nothing to do with her son getting shot over a half dozen times despite being in possession of only a cellphone. “I don’t care if he was a criminal, none of that matters,” said his mother. “Stop trying to justify (the shooting) by looking at a person’s character.” She also pointed out that he was only 22 years old.

By revealing his online queries about suicide and context for his rocky relationship with girlfriend Salena Manni, Schubert was trying to characterize the deceased as a “troubled” man. The use alcohol and drugs, reckless behavior, despair, and rage are all classic warning signs that someone is at risk for suicide. Yet Schubert denied that she was suggesting he was attempting to commit “suicide by cop.” “I’m not suggesting that, but I think it’s quite clear that Mr. Clark was in a state of despair and he was impaired and it’s very sad, because no human being should be in that position,” Schubert said at the announcement.  

Schubert justified the sharing of his texts and search history by insisting that it would be relevant if the case was brought in front of a jury, concluding that she did not believe a jury would convict the cops that killed Clark for a crime because of this information. As Marcos Breton cynically wrote in the Sacramento Bee, “[She] may well be right. In other cities, cops have been caught on video doing horrible things and juries still had a hard time convincing them.” He mentioned Schubert’s office’s own “troubled” history of failing to press charges against law enforcement; she declined to file charges against law enforcement in over 30 instances of police shootings, though some of the shootings were so egregious that the officers were fired from their positions.

Renewed Calls for Change to Support Safer Communities and Safer Policing

Governor Gavin Newsom expressed his sympathy for the family and the community over the weekend, calling for systemic change to prevent future tragedy and injustice. “We need to acknowledge the hard truth — our criminal justice system treats young black and Latino men and women differently than their white counterparts,” he said. “That must change.” NBC News report that the ACLU and a close family friend of the Clarks are working toward bringing a bill to the state legislature that would encourage law enforcement agents to rely upon deadly force only as a last resort when pursuing a suspected criminal. The bill complements recommendations from the California Department of Justice that encourage the use of de-escalation tactics whenever possible and enact “stricter use-of-force” policies, which are statistically shown to result in fewer deaths of both officers and suspects.