Autopsy Refutes Police Account in Stephon Clark Shooting

A mourner holds photo of Stephon Clark during the funeral services at Bayside Of South Sacramento Church in Sacramento, Calif., March 29, 2018. Jeff Chiu/Pool via Reuters

An autopsy on an unarmed black man killed by police officers in California's capital last week shows that none of the eight bullets hit him in the front, contradicting the official version of events, a lawyer for the Stephon Clark's family said on Friday.

Clark was hit six times in the back, once in the side and once in the leg, the independent autopsy found.

Benjamin Crump, an attorney for the family of Clark, a 22-year-old African-American man killed in Sacramento on March 18, said the findings refuted police statements that the man had been moving toward officers in a menacing way when they fired.

"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 in a statement.

Clark's death was the most recent in a string of fatal shootings of black men by police that have triggered protests across the United States and fueled a national debate about bias in the American criminal justice system.

The Sacramento Police Department said in a statement that it would have no further comment on the case until after the release of the findings of an official autopsy by the county coroner, and a review by state and local prosecutors.


Demonstrators protest the police shooting of Stephon Clark, in Sacramento, March 30, 2018. REUTERS/Bob Strong

Dr. Bennet Omalu, the forensic pathologist who conducted the independent autopsy, said at a briefing that any one of seven bullets that entered the upper half of Clark's body could have killed him.

"Each of these bullets independently possessed a fatal capacity, meaning ... all he needed was one of the seven to die," said Omalu, a Nigerian-born physician best known for his research into chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in American football players.

Clark's shooting has sparked largely peaceful demonstrations in Sacramento. On several occasions over the last two weeks, protesters have marched, held demonstrations, and twice blocked fans from reaching games played by the Sacramento Kings NBA basketball team at the Golden 1 Center.

Clark, a father of two, was gunned down in the backyard of his grandparents' house by police responding to a report that someone was breaking windows. Police said the officers who shot at Clark 20 times feared he was holding a firearm, but that he was later found to have been holding a cellphone.

The incident was captured in graphic detail in a body cam video released by the police on Wednesday.

"Prior to the shooting, the involved officers saw the suspect facing them, advance forward with his arms extended, and holding an object in his hands," a police statement released on Monday read.

At the funeral service for Clark on Thursday, veteran civil rights leader Rev. Al Sharpton said: "We're going to make Donald Trump and the whole world deal with the issue of police misconduct," referring to the president.

The service at a church in Sacramento came a day after White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders told reporters the shooting was a "local matter."

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra has said state investigators will oversee the investigation and review the police department's procedures and practices.

Sharon Bernstein writes for Reuters.

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