By Antonio R. Harvey | OBSERVER Staff Writer
Sequette Clark has not given up on the notion that the officers-involved, shooting-death case of her son Stephon Clark will be reopened despite the fact that the cops were not charged locally, statewide or federally.
Clark, the 22-year-old father of two sons, was shot and killed by two Sacramento police officers in the back yard of his grandparents’ house in South Sacramento on March 18, 2018. Police say they thought he was holding a gun. All Clark was holding was a cell phone.
Clark’s mother is looking at a California law that requests the Attorney General to launch a formal review of situations where an officer used force against an unarmed individual that resulted in death or harm.
Authored by Assemblyman Kevin McCarty (D-Sacramento) of District 7, Assembly Bill (AB) 1506 requires a state prosecutor from the Attorney General’s office to investigate such incidents.
“I am expecting this new A.G. (Rob Bonta) to reopen the case of Stephon Clark … and I am going to speak that into existence,” Ms. Clark told The OBSERVER by telephone last week. “We are going to press the issue using AB 1506 as a reason for them to reopen it.”
Along with several landmark racial justice, criminal justice, and policing reform proposals, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed AB 1506 into law on Sept. 30, the final day for the governor to sign legislation.
Over the years, several high-profile acts of deadly force at the hands of law enforcement, namely Michael Brown (Missouri), Alton Sterling (Louisiana), Philando Castille (Minnesota), and Eric Garner (New York), prompted McCarty to seek a standard that would allow a third-party investigation to occur.
Many of the officer-involved cases were in the hands of district or state attorneys’ offices that frequently work alongside law enforcement agencies. It is the D.A.’s job to decide whether to prosecute officers, McCarty said.
“In a few incidents, there have been calls for independent investigations by the attorney general,” McCarty said when he first introduced AB 1506. “However, all of these requests were denied by the (California) Department of Justice.”
Since his election to the Assembly from the 7th District in December 2014, McCarty has expended great effort to create such an oversight bill. His first attempt was in 2015 with AB 86, then AB 284 in 2017. Both failed.
“Since 2015, we have seen over 800 people shot and killed by police in California, and just one independent investigation,” McCarty said.
In Sacramento, police-involved shootings continued and a few came with critical questions. In July 2016, Joseph Mann, 51, who was struggling with mental illness issues, was shot by two police officers in North Sacramento.
Mann’s death was caught on video. He was in possession of a knife, but many observers say he could have been apprehended without using force.
The officers, Randy Lozoya and John Tennis, justified lethal force by saying they feared for their lives and the safety of the community. Both no longer work for SPD.
The officers fired 18 shots at Mann, hitting him 14 times at close range. Investigations by the Sacramento Police Department and Sacramento County District Attorney concluded that the officers acted lawfully in the shooting.
Before the Mann shooting, Tennis had his service weapon returned to him by a judge at the request of then-SPD chief Sam Somers Jr., civil rights attorney John Burris of Oakland learned. Tennis’ gun issue concerned a domestic violence case in El Dorado County.
“There’s no evidence that says he (Mann) had a gun. One can easily say that this was an execution because they were not attacked,” Burris told The OBSERVER in August 2016. “The officers created a confrontation and shot their way out of it.”
About three years later, Sacramento County D.A. Anne Marie Schubert decided not to file charges against SPD officers Terrence Mercadal and Jared Robinet in Clark’s shooting.
Two days after Schubert’s 90-minute explanation for deciding not to prosecute Mercadal and Robinet, then-Attorney General Xavier Becerra announced no charges would be filed against the two cops who confronted Clark after receiving a call for suspected vandalism.
“Our investigation has concluded that no criminal charges against the officers involved in the shooting can be sustained,” Becerra said in a news conference March 5, 2019. “Our investigation can’t change what has happened, but we can make every effort to deliver a fair, thorough and impartial review, which we promised this community when we took on this investigation.”
U.S. Attorney McGregor W. Scott and FBI Special Agent Sean Regan met with Ms. Clark in September 2019 to tell her they did not find evidence to support federal criminal civil rights charges against Mercadal and Robinet.
Stephon Clark’s older brother Stevante Clark said it was “failed justice” when the county, state, and federal prosecutors closed their investigations. He, too, expects Bonta to consider reopening the case.
“They were exonorated for murder,” Stevante Clark said. “We’ve been failed on all levels. But I feel right now that this guy (Rob Bonta) does something when it comes to accountability. This law (AB 1506) passed is good. That’s great. We always said that slow progress is always better than no progress. But we want to see if he’ll actually open the case of Stephon Clark.”
Sequette Clark said Becerra and Scott conducted an “examination” of the case, not an actual investigation.
“They basically just spelled-checked the D.A.’s and police department’s investigations,” Ms. Clark said. “We didn’t get separate investigations. The state attorney general and the U.S. attorney never do their own investigations. They go solely off the initial investigations.”
Bonta, appointed by Gov. Newsom when Becerra was named U.S. secretary of Health and Human Services under President Joe Biden’s administration, already has hinted that he could use AB 1506 to build trust between law enforcement and communities around the state.
The California Department of Justice expects to review up to 40 police-related murder investigations each year. Bonta said the process would be “fair and impartial.”
“I would think that anybody in their right mind would want to address the issues for the people you now serve,” Ms. Clark said of Bonta. “Just like the Stephon Clark law (AB 392, which limits police officers’ use of deadly force), if it’s that bad enough that you have to create a law like AB 1506, then the investigation of the murder of my son applies, too.”