SACRAMENTO, Calif. - An independent autopsy requested by the family of a Sacramento man killed by police in his own backyard earlier this month showed that eight of 20 bullets fired by officers struck him, including six bullets to the back, an attorney for the family announced Friday.
None of the bullets that struck Stephon Alonzo “Zoe” Clark, 22, struck him from the front.
Civil rights lawyer Benjamin Crump, who represents Clark’s family, said during a news conference Friday that the autopsy findings contradict statements Sacramento police officials have offered about the March 18 shooting. The officers who fired on Clark, 22, stated in body camera footage from the scene that he was walking toward them with his arms extended, with what they believed to be a gun in his hand.
The only thing found with Clark’s body was an iPhone.
The independent autopsy was done by noted pathologist Dr. Bennet Omalu, who told reporters at Friday’s news conference that during the three-hour autopsy he conducted Tuesday, he found that Clark suffered a gunshot wound to the neck, one to the left thigh and the remainder to the back.
Seven of the eight wounds were, in and of themselves, potentially fatal, though Clark did not die right away.
“Death was not instantaneous,” Omalu said.
Instead, Clark bled out into his chest cavity from a wound to his aorta, the largest artery in a person’s body, and suffered a tension pneumothorax, or buildup of air in his pleural cavity, or the thin, fluid-filled cushion between the lungs and the chest cavity.
The pathologist said that one of the bullets broke Clark’s arm, shredding the veins and arteries within. Multiple bullets also hit his spinal cord.
When asked for his opinion on the sequence of the gunshot wounds, Omalu said that his findings, plus his viewing Thursday of the footage from a helicopter overhead that captured the shooting on video, indicated that the left side of Clark’s back was facing the officers when they began shooting.
“The proposition that he was facing the officers is inconsistent with the prevailing forensic evidence,” Omalu said.
See the entire news conference below.
Omalu said he believes the first shot struck Clark under his armpit on the left side, exiting on the other side of his body. Another struck him on the side of the neck.
At that point, his body likely turned from the force of being shot, Omalu said. The gunshots to his back were delivered at that point.
The final shot was the shot to the thigh, which Omalu said he believes was fired as Clark fell to the pavement of his grandparents’ patio.
Omalu said it likely took between three and 10 minutes for Clark to die. The officers who shot him, as well as those who responded as backup, have been criticized because they waited more than five minutes to approach Clark’s motionless body to handcuff him and attempt to render medical care.
Crump said the autopsy “affirms that Stephon was not a threat to police and was slain in another senseless police killing under increasingly questionable circumstances.”
Omalu is the former chief medical examiner in San Joaquin County and worked at the Allegheny County Coroner’s Office in Pittsburgh. It was there that he became the first forensic pathologist to uncover evidence of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in football players.
Crump brought up Omalu’s groundbreaking work in a statement released after the news conference.
“When Dr. Omalu said football players were suffering brain damage, the NFL tried to dismiss his findings as completely wrong, but later had to reverse themselves,” Crump said. “I’m sure the police will similarly try to discredit his findings about Stephon Clark, but once again the truth will win out.”
The results of the autopsy conducted by the Sacramento County Coroner’s Office have not yet been made public.
Clark was killed moments after two Sacramento police officers looking for a vandal who had broken into several cars spotted him looking into the window of a vehicle next to his grandparents’ house. They were led to his location by a deputy in a helicopter that was also searching for the vandal.
Infrared footage from the helicopter circling above showed Clark moving through a neighbor’s backyard and jumping the fence before going around the side of his grandparents’ home. Though the footage released by Sacramento police officials does not show it, a deputy in the helicopter told officers below that he saw Clark break a sliding glass door on the neighbor’s home.
The fatal shooting was captured on the helicopter’s video, as well as by the body cameras of the two officers involved in the shooting. In the body camera footage, at least one of the officers demands that Clark show his hands and, a moment later, screams “Gun! Gun! Gun!” before both officers open fire.
The shooting triggered days of protests across the city and beyond. Protesters, led by Clark’s brother, have blocked the entrance into Sacramento Kings basketball games, gathered in front of the Sacramento County District Attorney’s Office and disrupted a Sacramento City Council meeting.
Two former Kings players offered to pay for Stephon Clark’s funeral.
The independent autopsy results were made public the day after hundreds of people, including the Rev. Al Sharpton, paid tribute to Stephon Clark at his funeral, which was held at Bayside of South Sacramento Church.
Up to 500 people packed into the church and hundreds more stood outside the church, according to The Sacramento Bee.
A live stream of the funeral from USA Today, seen below, showed mourners struggling to find seats in the packed church.
“It is a good thing that we can’t find seats to celebrate his life,” Darryl Scarbrough, lead pastor of the church, said. “Amen. That he was so loved by so many that we gather here for him.”
Clark’s brother, Stevante Clark, threw himself on his brother’s casket, which was flanked by heart-shaped flower arrangements. One bore a ribbon that read, #StephonClark,” and the other, “Rest in Power.”
Several mourners hugged and calmed the grieving man, who has spoken tirelessly against police brutality in the 12 days since his brother was killed.
Stevante Clark stormed Tuesday’s City Council meeting, chanting his brother’s name and confronting the council and Mayor Darrell Steinberg.
Steinberg later told The Washington Post that there was “deep pain and anguish” surrounding Stephon Clark’s death.
“It’s our job to bear some of that pain, and to help translate the anguish and grieving and the historic pain (of black communities) into tangible and real change,” Steinberg said.
Grabbing the microphone from Alice Huffman, of the NAACP, on Thursday, Stevante Clark apologized to Steinberg, who attended the funeral, for the earlier confrontation and offered forgiveness.
“We’re gonna forgive the mayor,” Clark told the mourners in the church. “Amen? Everybody say, ‘We love the mayor.’ He’s going to help us get … the resource center done, and if he doesn’t, we’re going to hold him accountable.”
Clark has vowed to get a community resource center and library built in honor of his slain brother.
“Stephon is going to live for generations, for generations, for generations,” he said. “The Clark family will never die.”
Sharpton, who delivered Stephon Clark’s eulogy, clapped back at a statement by White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who characterized the police shooting and aftermath as a “local matter.”
“No, this is not a local matter,” Sharpton said. “They’ve been killing young black men all over the country. And we are here to say that we’re going to stand with Stephon Clark and the leaders of his family.”
Sharpton placed a hand on the shoulder of a visibly distraught Stevante Clark, hugging the grieving brother as he spoke.
“We are putting aside our differences,” Sharpton said. “It’s time for preachers to come out the pulpit. It’s time for politicians to come out the office. It’s time for us to go down and stop this madness.”
Sharpton criticized people who have come out against the protesters for the disruptions the protests have caused.
“Some reporter said to me how this brother and others stopped cars,” Sharpton said.
He pointed to where Stephon Clark lay in his casket.
“They stopped this young man’s life,” he said.
About the protesters, he said, “They were not violent. They did not shoot at anybody 20 times. They didn’t take anybody down. We saw the video. Do the right thing.
“We will never let you forget the name of Stephon Clark until we get justice,” Sharpton said.