By FRANCES ROBLES and JOSE A. DEL REAL
The New York Times
Stephon Clark, the unarmed black man who was killed by the Sacramento police in his grandmothers backyard, was shot eight times from behind or the side, according to a private autopsy commissioned by his family. The autopsy concluded that Clarks death was not instantaneous, taking an estimated three to 10 minutes, raising questions about why Clark was not given more immediate medical care after the shooting.
Clark, whose death has sparked protests throughout the city, was shot at more than 20 times by officers responding to a vandalism report in a Sacramento neighborhood last week.
At least eight of those bullets struck Clark — with none of them entering from the front, according to an analysis by Dr. Bennet Omalu, a private medical examiner his familys lawyer hired to conduct an independent autopsy, which was released Friday.
According to Omalu, Clark was shot four times in the lower part of his back, twice in his neck, and once under an armpit. He was also shot in the leg. One of the neck wounds was from the side, the doctor found.
“You could reasonably conclude that he received seven gunshot wounds from his back,” Omalu said at a news conference on Friday. He added that each of those seven shots could have had a “fatal capacity” and described severe damage to Clarks body, including a shattered vertebrae and a collapsed lung.
“These findings from the independent autopsy contradict the police narrative that weve been told,” Benjamin Crump, the familys lawyer, said in a statement. “This independent autopsy affirms that Stephon was not a threat to police and was slain in another senseless police killing under increasingly questionable circumstances.”
Crump said the results proved that Clark could not have been moving in a threatening fashion toward the officers when they opened fire.
Clarks family has expressed frustration with the response from county and city officials, whom they have suggested are trying to cover up misconduct by their police officers. The independent autopsy, Crump and his team said, was undertaken to guarantee impartiality. The Sacramento County Coroners office has not publicly released Clarks autopsy results, but did confirm that he died of multiple gunshot wounds. They had not disclosed how many bullets hit Clark. The Sacramento police did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the private autopsy.
Clarks death has sparked intense anger and grief in Sacramento, particularly among the citys black residents. Protesters have taken to the streets nearly every day to call attention to his killing and have called on the citys leadership to fire the two officers involved in the shooting.
The Police Department is investigating the shooting and assessing whether its officers violated any protocols. Chief Daniel Hahn requested assistance from the California Department of Justice earlier this week, headed by Attorney General Xavier Becerra, to join the investigation as an independent party. Hahn said he hoped that step would reassure residents that the investigation was being conducted impartially.
Residents have argued that the police officers responded disproportionately to what was merely a routine call to the department reporting vandalism.
Two police officers were dispatched to the Meadowview neighborhood in South Sacramento on March 18 to investigate a report that someone was breaking car windows in the area. A county sheriffs department helicopter joined the search and hovered above, at one point telling officers that a suspect had picked up a crowbar.
The officers eventually spotted Clark, who appears to have run from them into his grandmothers backyard. They ordered Clark to show his hands and seconds later fired 20 bullets in his direction. The officers, according to a statement by the Police Department, believed Clark was armed. In the body camera video, an officer is heard shouting the word “gun” repeatedly and opening fire almost immediately. No weapon was found on Clarks body; the only object officers found was his cellphone.
After they were joined by reinforcements, the two officers on the scene muted the audio on their body cameras as they discussed what had happened, which has drawn criticism. Questions were also raised about the timing of the medical response.
Omalu said that he could not determine if Clark would have survived if he had received medical attention more quickly, but “every minute you wait decreases probability of survival.”
Crump said he was expecting the authorities to push back on the findings of the autopsy.
“Our autopsy has shown that he was shot repeatedly in the back — which is certainly not characteristic of someone menacing officers or preparing an imminent attack,”Crump said.