Sacramento, Calif. — California legislators are exploring ways to make police liable for deaths related to the use of lethal force.This comes after investagators concluded that the officers who shot and killed Stephon Clark last year did not commit a crime. Clark was unarmed at the time of his death.
Council to its streets, shouts of “Stephon Clark” have pitted police against the community. The shooting death of 22-year-old Clark by Sacramento police last year — and other high-profile shootings of unarmed black men — have also pivoted elected officials to introduce legislation to make police criminally liable for such deaths.
“Most of the officers are not being prosecuted for the use of lethal force,” said California Assemblywoman Shirley Weber. “And so California would be among the first state to actually implement a statewide policy.”
As the proposal is considered, separate investigations from the Sacramento County district attorney and California’s attorney general concluded the officers did not violate protocol.
“Our investigation has concluded that no criminal charges against the officers involved in the shooting can be sustained,” said California Attorney General Xavier Becerra.
Clark had been pursued by a police helicopter for car break-ins when two officers chased him into his grandparents’ backyard the night of March 18, 2018.
In a statement to investigators, the officers said “I was scared. I thought that he had shot at me.” A split-second flash from Clark’s cell phone was misinterpreted as gunfire. “I saw what I believed to be a metallic reflection or muzzle flash – something coming at me,” an officer said.
Increasingly, law enforcement is coming up with solutions to de-escalate encounters that could go bad in split second.
“Criminalizing the police officer is not the way to go,” said Damon Kurtz of the Peace Officers Research Association of California.
In California alone, more than 700 use of force police incidents analyzed by the Department of Justice show almost half of them involved “discharge of a gun.”
The Peace Officers Research Association of California is advocating a proposed law to enhance training.
“The situation leading up to these use is of force is basically what we need to address and that is mental health, substance abuse in these situations,” Kurtz said. “More than 90 percent have that component to them and how do we address that to lower the use of force.”
The message from Black Lives Matter is straight to the point: They plan to protest outside the Sacramento police department until the officers are fired or face serious consequences.