On Sunday night, Sacramento police were responding to a call about a man breaking windows when they shot an unarmed father of two. The two officers believed Stephan Clark was holding a gun before firing 10 times each, leaving Clark dead. The encounter lasted roughly six seconds, and after approaching Clark's body they determined he'd actually been holding an iPhone.
The incident echoed a 2016 shooting by Sacramento police of a mentally ill black man. After police killed Joseph Mann, it became department policy to release body cam footage of critical incidents like this within a month of them happening. On Wednesday, the department publicly released footage from officer body cams and a support helicopter dispatched to help with pursuit.
Footage shows Clark fleeing from police, jumping a fence into what turned out to be his grandparents' backyard, where he was staying. The video shows the officers yelling for Clark to stop, but never identifying themselves as police, meaning that Clark would only be reacting to two strangers charging at him in the dark and yelling. After the shooting, the officers waited six minutes before approaching Clark's body, performing CPR after handcuffing him. The officers then muted their body cam microphones after backup arrived.
Clark's grandmother was in the house at the time, and told the Sacramento Bee that she never heard any commands from the police. "The only thing that I heard," she said, "was pow, pow, pow, pow, and I got to the ground." The Bee continues:
Thompson said it was normal for Clark and others to enter the home through the backyard because the front doorbell doesn't work and she and her husband, who is in a wheelchair, have poor mobility. People would knock on the back window and ask her to use an automatic opener to raise the garage door to admit them, she said.
By the Washington Post's count, there have been 230 fatal shootings by on-duty police officers so far in 2018. It's hard to hear details about Clark's death and not be reminded of John Crawford or Tamir Rice, both shot dead by police in Ohio for carrying toy guns. But we know it's possible for police officers to not lose their cool, as we saw in Charlottesville when a white man fired a gun into a crowd and then walked away while multiple police watched placidly.