Courts

City settles federal lawsuit over Stephon Clark death for $1.7M

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — The City of Sacramento on Friday settled the remaining portion of a civil rights lawsuit brought in federal court by the family of Stephon Clark, just one month before the matter was slated for trial.

“The decision to resolve the case through a negotiated agreement comes after careful consideration of all options,” City Attorney Susan Alcala Wood said in a statement through the city’s news website. “We believe this is the best path forward for all involved parties including our community.”

Clark’s parents, Stephen and Se’Quette, will receive $1.7 Million from the city’s insurer. The seven-figure settlement adds on to a $2.4M settlement granted to Clark’s young children in 2019 and puts an end to the years-long litigation involving his death.

Clark, 22 at the time, was shot and killed by two city police officers responding to a 911 call about car clout in Meadowview in 2018. He was suspected of breaking the windows of several cars and the sliding glass door of his grandmother’s next-door neighbor.

After allegedly witnessing Clark break the glass with a concrete block, a Sheriff’s helicopter led the officers on the ground, Terrence Mercadal and Jared Robinet to him as he stood near a car in his grandmother’s driveway. The officers yelled at Clark to show his hands and began a foot pursuit.

According to body camera video released by the city, as they pursued Clark into his grandmother’s backyard and rounded a corner, Officers Terrence Mercadal and Jared Robinet called out “Gun!” several times and fired 20 rounds, striking him seven times. Clark was dead, but when they flipped his body over, all they found near his hand was a cell phone.

The officers told investigators they believed Clark was advancing towards them and had opened fire with a gun. The incident quickly became one of Sacramento’s most controversial police shootings, with protests cropping up all around the city including one that caused Golden One Center to close.

“I thought that he had already shot at me because I saw what I believed to be a metallic reflection or muzzle flash – something coming at me,” Officer Terrence Mercadal told investigators after the shooting. “I was scared.”

Later examination of Clark’s phone by investigators revealed that he was grappling with mental health issues shortly before his death. The finding resulted in some activists calling for the additional presence of specialized first responders for suspects struggling with their mental health, such as social workers.

Although the officers never faced criminal charges after local, state, and federal investigations found their actions to have been within the law, Clark’s death set off a wave of protests in Sacramento and across the country almost immediately afterwards. The city has instituted stricter use of force policies for police officers since the incident.

“Stephon Clark’s death was a tragedy that brought pain and sorrow to our entire city,” Mayor Darrell Steinberg said in a statement. “Everyone wishes this heartbreaking event had not occurred. A family lost a son, a grandson, a brother, and a father.”

The case was set to go before a civil jury early next month at the Robert T. Matsui Courthouse. The lawsuit, which originally asked for $20 Million, accused the officers, Jared Robinet and Terrence Mercadal, of racially profiling Clark and claimed they prevented first responders from working on him after they shot him.

“The involved officers shot [Clark] even though he was not an immediate threat of death or serious bodily injury to the officers or anyone else and there were other less than lethal options available,” the lawsuit says. “The involved officers are responsible for every single shot they fired and this was not an immediate defense of life situation.”

The settlement previously granted to Clark’s children has been placed into a trust fund and will be made available to them in the form of three payments between the ages of 22 and 25. Clark’s family has since established a foundation in his name, and the Stephon A. Clark College Prep Middle School is set to open in the neighborhood he was killed in.

Since Clark’s death, controversy over law enforcement in Sacramento hasn’t subsided. One officer currently faces criminal charges for allegedly manufacturing probable cause to stop a black motorist and search his car, later finding an illegally possessed gun.

That arrest was one of five identified by internal investigators where Alexa Palubicki was found to have broken department policy. Investigators also allege she farmed hours of overtime when she actually clocked out early, failed to take down mirandized statements from suspects, and used a controversial knee-to-neck move to restrain a suspect who complained that he couldn’t breathe.

Another officer pled no contest last month to two felonies for sending a girl in Minnesota pictures of his penis while on duty. That officer, Daniel Donahue was sentenced to 90 days in jail.

Although several officers have been convicted of crimes, none have been convicted for their roles in an on-duty shooting. The District Attorney’s Office has found that, in all but one instance, shootings by law enforcement in Sacramento County have been lawful.

Like the Clarks, the surviving families of several suspects shot and killed by local police have also chosen to file federal civil rights lawsuits. Those lawsuits include claims filed by the family of Augustine Morales, shot and killed at an underground boxing event while allegedly trying to stop an active shooter, and Kershawn Geyger, fatally shot by Sheriff’s gang investigators during an apparent firefight.

Ethan Biando
Ethan Biando is a freelance journalist from Sacramento. His writing focuses on crime, courts, and policing. Find him on Twitter @ethanb822

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