California DOJ to Oversee Sacramento Police's Investigation of Stephon Clark's Death

by | March 28, 2018

By Dale Kasler And Benjy Egel

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said Tuesday his office would provide independent oversight of the investigation into the death of Stephon Clark, an unarmed black man who was shot and killed by two Sacramento police officers earlier this month in his grandparents' backyard.

With the city on edge after a series of volatile protests last week over the Clark shooting, Becerra announced the state Department of Justice will also review use-of-force policies, training and other practices of the Sacramento Police Department.

Becerra said his office would make sure the investigation would be "based on the facts and the law -- nothing less, nothing more." He said the Justice Department will provide "some independent eyes....We're not taking over the investigation."

But he also said his office maintains the "independent authority" to file criminal charges if the investigation warrants it, regardless of what Sacramento law enforcement authorities choose to do.

Surrounded by pastors, leaders of black fraternities and sororities and other community leaders, Becerra, Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert, Police chief Daniel Hahn and Mayor Darrell Steinberg appealed to Sacramentans to let the investigative process play out and asked that protests remain peaceful. Becerra stressed that Sacramento authorities, led by Hahn, had asked the attorney general to step into the controversial case.

"That's pretty big," Becerra said.

But if the pastors and others were impressed with Becerra's intervention, others in the black community remained unpersuaded that the state can properly investigate. "There's been federal investigations before of police killings, there's been state investigations before of police killings," said Tanya Faison of Sacramento's Black Lives Matter chapter, speaking at a press conference in front of City Hall. "I don't believe the government can govern itself."

Her preference: The city's Community Police Review Commission investigate the Clark killing, but only if it's given more power than it has now. Steinberg has said the commission should limit its role to reviewing police policies and procedures, not the Clark case.

Hahn said the state's involvement in the Clark case "will help build faith and confidence" in the police department's own investigation. Schubert said she welcomes the additional "layer of review" but said the DA's office is "not abdicating our role to investigate the shooting. "Understand that the process will take time," she added.

Becerra's announcement came a day after NAACP leaders, at a press conference that included members of Clark's family, demanded that charges be filed against the two officers who shot Clark, and called on the U.S. Justice Department to intervene. On Tuesday, FBI spokeswoman Gina Swankie said "we are aware of the situation and are coordinating with the district attorney's office and the U.S. attorney's office.

Steinberg acknowledged that Sacramento faces difficult days and weeks ahead; Black Lives Matters planned to demonstrate Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday afternoons at Schubert's office, and hundreds of protestors were expected at Tuesday night's City Council meeting. "Violence must not beget violence; the country is watching us," the mayor said.

Black leaders urged the community to stay calm, saying Sacramento could distinguish itself from other cities where major violence has erupted after police shooting of a black man. "Sacramento will be a role model," said Dr. Ollie Mack, a Sacramento physician speaking on behalf of the fraternities and sororities.

Mack referred to last Friday's protests, in which a group of 200 people berated motorists, threatened police officers and snarled traffic, saying protests that become violent will hurt the cause of justice. "If you have people jumping on cars, spitting on people, that will be the news," he said.

And Pastor Anthony Sadler, of Shiloh Baptist Church in Sacramento, said "I understand the community is concerned about the integrity of the investigation" but added the state's involvement "is a wonderful step forward and a wonderful act of faith by our Chief Daniel Hahn."

In a statement, the U.S. Attorney's Office said it is standard practice in officer-involved shootings to "coordinate closely with our law enforcement partners. Consistent with this practice, our office together with the FBI are in close communication with the Sacramento Police Department and the Sacramento County District Attorney concerning the investigations into the Stephon Clark shooting and will continue to coordinate with them and with the California Attorney General's Office as this matter progresses."

The Bee's Sam Stanton and Tony Bizjak contributed to this report.

(c)2018 The Sacramento Bee (Sacramento, Calif.)