The parents of Stephon Clark, the unarmed Black man fatally shot by police in 2018, will receive a $1.7 million settlement from the city of Sacramento. Clark was just 22 when he was shot seven times by two Sacramento police officers who chased him into his grandmother’s backyard. Altogether, the officers fired 20 shots at Clark. This settlement brings to an end the remaining portion of a lawsuit filed by Clark’s family. In 2019, a settlement provided $2.4 million for Clark’s two children, then ages 2 and 5. The family had originally filed a $20 million wrongful death lawsuit.
Holding a Cellphone, Not a Gun
The case made national headlines as the police believed Clark was approaching them with a gun in his hand after a foot chase in response to a routine report of a vandalized vehicle. In reality, Clark was holding a cellphone. His grandparents saw their grandson killed. Even though Clark was already down on his hands and knees, video of the incident shows that the officers continued shooting at him.
Protests erupted in Sacramento after the March 18, 2018 shooting. Streets were shut down, sporting events disrupted and the killing dominated City Council meetings.
Neither of the officers involved in the shooting, Terrence Mercadal and Jared Robinet, were charged in Clark’s killing. Both are still employed by the SPD. At a recent news conference, Clark’s brother Stevante said he continues to call for the officers’ firing, charging, and prosecution.
A Tragedy Causes Changes
Clark’s death resulted in changes to the way the Sacramento Police Department and the city increased safety for both law enforcement and the public. Investigations by agencies on the city, county, state, and federal level found that the officers were acting within police department and state rules at the time of the shooting.
Policies regarding deadly force by the police were overhauled. Police are now discouraged from purchasing foot chases. Clark’s death changed California’s police use-of-force law. Previously, state law permitted deadly force by police when “reasonable.” Now, deadly force is permissible only when “necessary in defense of human life.”
In addition, Clark’s death helped spur the passage of major police transparency legislation regarding keeping law enforcement records secret. The public now has access to the internal investigations of police shootings throughout California. Body camera footage of such shootings is now allowed to be released.
Beforehand, it wasn’t only the public that lacked access to police shooting records. Agencies hiring police also lacked the ability to discover police misconduct and thus avoid hiring “bad cops.” As painful as Clark’s death was and remains to his family, his terrible ending left a legacy. Perhaps Clark’s senseless, tragic death resulted in some reforms that make a repeat of his demise less likely. Perhaps. As Stevante Clark said at the news conference, “There’s no reason I should be out here talking about my brother’s legacy, defending my brother’s legacy, when the officers who murdered him should be proving their innocence in court. We always have to relive the death of Stephon.”