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California police shoot unarmed black man 20 times in his grandparents' backyard

Two officers shouted for a suspect to show his hands then yelled 'gun, gun, gun' moments before shooting him dead

Maya Oppenheim
Thursday 22 March 2018 17:18 GMT
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Police shoot unarmed black man 19 times in his grandparents' back yard

Police in Sacramento fatally fired at an unarmed black man 20 times after mistaking his mobile phone for a weapon.

Two officers shouted for a suspect to show his hands and then yelled “gun, gun, gun” moments before shooting him dead, audio from body camera footage released by Sacramento police shows.

Footage from the body cameras and an overhead helicopter does not clearly illustrate what the man, who was only holding a mobile phone, was doing in the moments before the police aimed at him on Sunday night.

The shooting took place in the backyard of the man’s grandparents’ home where he was staying. Police said investigators did not locate any guns after “an exhaustive search” and the only item found was a mobile phone.

The Sacramento Police Department said the man was witnessed breaking into at least three vehicles and later into the home of a neighbour. The break-ins were first reported by a 911 call also released by the police.

The police said deputies in the helicopter saw the man break a neighbour’s sliding glass door, before he jumped a fence but the helicopter video ceases to show the alleged break-in.

Instead, it picks up as the man is running through a backyard and climbing over a fence into a neighbouring property. It also shows him looking into a truck in the driveway.

The helicopter, flying over the house, then loses sight of the man. It briefly shows him in the backyard as the police are running up the driveway along the side of the house.

Lashunda Britt, a cousin of Stephan Clark, stands near where he was fatally shot by police in Sacramento (AP)

The department had said he advanced towards the officers holding an object extended in front of him. Police said the officers thought he was pointing a handgun.

“Twenty rounds were fired,” Sacramento Police sergeant Vance Chandler told KCRA-TV on Tuesday afternoon. “Each officer fired 10 rounds.”

Although authorities have not released the man’s name, a woman who said she was his fiancée, identified him as 22-year-old Stephon Alonzo Clark.

She said Mr Clark, who was pronounced dead at the scene, is the father of her two sons, aged one and three.

“We’re mourning right now and so we need our time to mourn,” Salena Manni said on Wednesday as the family came together in his grandparents’ home.

“He was at the wrong place at the wrong time in his own backyard? C’mon now, they didn’t have to do that,” Mr Clark’s grandmother, Sequita Thompson, told The Sacramento Bee.

Sequita Thompson points to the white area on the patio where she said her grandson Stephon Clark lay dead after being shot by police in Sacramento (AP) (The Sacramento Bee via AP)

The department could not say the number of times Mr Clark was hit and the coroner’s office said it would not release information until his family members had been notified.

The shooting of Mr Clark, who regularly helped care for his grandparents at their south Sacramento home, has triggered questions from relatives, activists and others after it turned out he was holding only a mobile phone.

Black Lives Matter Sacramento branded it a police murder and called for answers. Black Lives Matter is an international activist movement which campaigns against violence and systemic racism towards black people. In the US it fights to counter racial inequality in the the criminal justice system and highlights the fact black people’s lives are relatively undervalued as they are more likely to be the victims of police brutality.

“As long as police are getting away with killing unarmed black people they are going to keep doing it. #BlackLivesMatter,” the group said on Twitter.

Authorities said the two officers involved in the shooting have two and four years with the Sacramento Police Department and both have four years of prior law enforcement experience with other agencies before joining the Sacramento police.

Additional reporting by agencies

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