Stephon Clark’s Killers Go Free
Anne-Marie Schubert, Sacramento’s District Attorney, has announced that she will not pursue any criminal charges against either Jared Robinet and Terrence Mercadal, two Sacramento police officers who shot and killed Stephon Clark last summer. Both officers have claimed that they believed that Clark was armed and that he posed a threat to them; Clark, for the record, was not armed and posed no threat to either officer. He was holding onto a cellphone when he was shot at least seven times by both officers.
Schubert relied on the same argument that prosecutors always have when excusing police violence: that what officers (claim to) believe to be true is always more important than the reality of the situation.
“The law requires that we judge the reasonableness of an officer’s actions based upon the circumstances confronting them at that moment of time…We know [Clark] fled from the officers after being told to stop, we know that he continued into the backyard, and we know that when he continued into the backyard, he rounded that corner, and he went to the end of that yard and he turned around…He didn’t continue to flee. He turned around and he was in a shooting stance with his arms extended.”
Schubert’s decision was never going to be popular – owing to the perception that there is practically nothing police officers can do that will not eventually be excused by people in Schubert’s position – but she decided to double-down by thoroughly outlining the last hours of Clark’s life as well as presenting a toxicology report conducted after his death. Although she did not go so far as to claim that Clark had committed suicide-by-cop, she hinted at it and made sure to present a picture of Clark as a desperate, scared, potentially suicidal young man.
Clark’s family rightly noted that the officers who encountered Clark had no way of knowing any of the information that Schubert insisted upon presenting and that they were unclear what her goal was beyond providing an implicit justification for the officers’ actions, despite the plain facts of the case. Those facts include, obviously, Clark not having been armed, but also the police officers never identifying themselves while pursuing Clark, their decision in the aftermath of his shooting to turn their body cameras off, and their refusal to offer him any lifesaving care. Those same critics also noted that Schubert did not present any similar information about the officers, including any evidence that would have shed any light on their mental states; such evidence would have included the officers’ phone usage or toxicology reports. It is unclear if Schubert pursued any of this information during her investigation but, if she did, she did not present it during her press conference. Her goal, critics noted, was to make it okay that an unarmed man had been shot to death.
In the least surprising news imaginable, police officers, union heads, and former prosecutors came to Schubert’s defense, insisting that it was entirely understandable that a prosecutor would excuse the shooting death of an unarmed man, that a prosecutor would refuse to investigate the men who shot him, and that a prosecutor would build a case implicitly accusing the innocent individual of being responsible for his own death.
Schubert’s decision mirrors a nationwide pattern of prosecutors refusing to pursue charges against police officers who kill. Those decisions are bolstered by juries that side with police and a broader culturally conservative movement dedicated to the idea that police officers must be shielded from enduring any consequences for their actions, regardless of what they have done.
Clark’s family is, very understandably, pursuing a lawsuit against Sacramento.