Daily protests over the officer-involved shooting of Stephon Clark are spreading across America, and officials are afraid to tell protesters the truth: the shooting was clearly justified.
By reading other media accounts of the incident, it would be hard to believe that the shooting was justified. After all, they are reporting that Clark was an “unarmed black man” who was shot in the back “in his own backyard.”
These headlines are grossly misleading, although not quite inaccurate, as long as you don’t consider that he was in his grandmother’s backyard.
It paints a picture of a man minding his own business in his backyard when police shot him.
Thankfully, the incident was captured on camera, so we know what happened. And just as we were able to immediately determine that the Alton Sterling shooting was legally justified, this is again a case of a clearly justified shooting.
The Stephon Clark Shooting
The shooting happened after a 911 call came in to report a man breaking into vehicles, according to The Sacramento Bee. Investigators later found three vehicles that had been broken into.
A Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department helicopter responded and located Clark using a “tool bar” to break out the rear sliding glass door of an occupied home. 88-year-old homeowner Bill Wong was unaware that his door was being broken out at the time.
After the helicopter began tracking Clark, he started fleeing south.
This was captured on the helicopter’s camera which, you can watch HERE.
Clark jumped a fence, and started looking in another vehicle.
Officers on the ground arrived and ordered Clark to stop and show his hands. Rather than comply with the officers’ commands, Clark fled to his grandparents’ backyard.
Bodycam video captured Clark facing officers as he extended his arm toward officers with an object in his hand.
In the video, you can hear an officer yell, “Gun, gun, gun” as it appears Clark is taking a shooting stance.
Each of the two officers fired 10 rounds at Clark, fatally shooting him. It was later discovered that the object in his hand was a cell phone.
Why The Stephon Clark Shooting Was Justified
Clark was not actually armed with a weapon, but according to the law, this fact is actually irrelevant.
The law does not care if Clark was armed or not. It does not matter if Clark posed an actual threat to anybody at the time he was shot. What matters is if it was reasonable for officers to believe that Clark posed an immediate deadly threat.
By law, the reasonableness of the shooting must be considered from the perspective of officers at the scene, considering their training and experience, and cannot be judged in hindsight.
This standard is important because it allows police to use force against somebody whom they reasonably believe is posing a deadly threat, but may not have actually been posing a deadly threat.
Imagine saying to a police officer, “You shot somebody that you believed was pointing a gun at you, and was going to try to kill you. Every officer in your shoes would have believed that if they had a gun pointed at them, and the only way to stop it was to shoot the suspect. I would have done the same thing if I were in your shoes. But it was a cell phone, not a gun, so you’re being charged with murder.”
The U.S. Supreme court recognized that officers are forced to make split-second decisions in rapidly evolving situations, and that they do not have the luxury to verify that an object pointed at them is a gun, not a cell phone. Or that the gun pointed at them was a lethal gun, not a pellet gun.
The objective reasonableness standard still protects citizens from recklessness. Officers cannot simply claim that they were in fear for their lives, an officer must prove that the belief was reasonable.
Ex-cop Michael Slager was sentenced to 20 years in prison after it was determined that his claim of being in fear for his life when he shot Walter Scott was unreasonable.
What About The Stephon Clark Autopsy?
A privately performed autopsy commissioned by the Clark family lawyer determined that Clark was shot eight times. Dr. Bennet Omalu said that one of the bullets hit Clark in the side, and theorized that it’s impact rotated Clark, exposing his back, according to The Sacramento Bee.
Five bullets entered Clark’s back, one shot hit his neck, and one shot hit his thigh as he was falling or on the ground.
Every shot except the shot to his thigh was a fatal wound.
Activists are pointing to the back shots as evidence that Clark was unreasonably shot. However, video shows that Clark had squared off against officers, and the family’s hired doctor even theorized that Clark’s spinning after the first shot is what exposed his back.
The autopsy results actually do nothing to dispute the body camera evidence.
Screenshot of Clark squaring off with officers:
Now we must examine if it was reasonable for the officers involved in shooting Stephon Clark to believe that he had pointed a gun at them.
Stephon Clark fled from officers after he was witnessed committing a crime, he ignored their commands, and pointed an object at the officers with an extended arm. Considering just about any officer’s training and experience, a reasonable officer would believe that if a suspect is fleeing from police, then they extend their arm out to point an object at officers, then that object is most likely a gun.
By law, it’s irrelevant if that object later turns out to be a cell phone.
Prosecutors will have no ethical choice but to rule the shooting to be legally justified.