Sacramento police Monday released 52 videos and one audio file of the Stephon Clark shooting, showing multiple instances of officers muting their body-worn microphones and raising questions about the length of time it took law enforcement to render medical aid.
Clark, 22, was shot by two Sacramento police officers on March 18 in the backyard of his grandparents’ south Sacramento house. He was unarmed and holding a cellphone, which officers apparently mistook for a gun. The shooting set off weeks of protests and calls for police reforms in Sacramento to address what many see as bias in the policing of African American and ethnic communities.
Video released Monday confirms officers waited about five minutes from the time Clark was shot before they approached his body. They then spent about one minute handcuffing and searching him before beginning to administer CPR.
By the time fire department rescue workers were cleared by police to enter the scene — about a minute after CPR began — it appears that Clark already was dead. A fire department medic can be heard in another video of the same time frame saying, “We’re fixed and dilated here,” an apparent reference to Clark being nonresponsive.
Another person then asks: “Nonreactive?” A medic replies, “Yes,” and asks if anyone has a watch. He then calls the time as “21:42,” an apparent reference to Clark’s official time of death.
A forensic pathologist, Bennet Omalu, hired by the family last month to do an independent autopsy, estimated Clark likely survived between three and 10 minutes after being shot eight times by officers in the neck, torso and leg.
“The five minutes lapse in time, I’m not sure if it would have saved the life of Stephon Clark, but it would have increased the chances,” said Rashid Sidqe, a police reform activist with the Law Enforcement Accountability Directive. “We are looking for a response from the chief whether or not (officers) followed proper protocol, and if they did, how can we make the necessary changes so this doesn’t happen to another member of our community.”
Police spokesman Sgt. Vance Chandler said the department would examine whether officers acted quickly enough with medical care. In the videos, police can be heard discussing if it’s safe to approach Clark in the minutes before they administer aid.
“That’s part of our investigation, looking at when aid was rendered,” Chandler said. “We will look at if it was appropriate given the circumstances.”
Plumas County Deputy and police training expert Ed Obayashi said he believed the time taken before approaching Clark was reasonable under the circumstances. He said the possibility of other civilians in the area combined with officers’ inability to see both of Clark’s hands were risk factors.
“They approached him as soon as was safely practical,” Obayashi said. “From what I am seeing and hearing, the officers in my opinion exercised good tactical decision making.”
The videos released Monday also showed multiple instances in which police muted the microphones on their body-worn cameras.
One of those instances came to light in the original release of video in the days after the shooting, prompting the police department to change its policy on body-camera muting. Officers were ordered to keep their cameras and microphones on except in limited circumstances.
In one video released Monday, the officer who originally was flagged for muting his microphone in the earlier video release again mutes it while examining the shooting scene with a female officer.
“I’m throwing my camera on mute, I don’t know where you are,” the male officer says.
He continues to walk around Clark’s body, focusing his flashlight on it for a few seconds. He shines the light on other parts of the backyard, including where a wooden picnic table and couches are stationed, looking at bullet damage.
His microphone stays on mute for more than a minute before the footage ends. The corresponding video of the muted time frame from the female officer who was with him was not released. Her body-camera footage ends immediately after the male officer announces his intention to mute.
In another video taken at a nearby church, four officers mute their mics before continuing to search the walls of Cathedral of Praise and Worship for bullet holes. The church sits in a large field south of the backyard where Clark was shot.
In body-camera video, an officer approaches three others as they shine their flashlights on the outer walls. They gather together, and before they start talking, one officer says, “Mute it,” and two officers reply, “Sir.”
The first officer says again, “Mute it,” and the two officers both reply, “Yeah.” The officers begin to speak, but the fourth officer says, “Wait,” before he turns off his mic and they start talking.
In a third instance, an officer directs fire personnel to the backyard and asks both officers involved in the shooting how many rounds they fired. One officer says he thinks five, the other says maybe six. After the officer leaves the backyard, he goes to make a phone call and turns off his camera.
Councilman Larry Carr said he’s anxious to understand why the officers muted their microphones after the Clark shooting and said he is hopeful that information will be revealed during the police department’s investigation of the shooting.
“If it’s one officer or 100 (muting their mics after the shooting), what we want is none,” he said. “If it’s one person or a lot, that’s concerning.” Carr previously said the shooting “just doesn’t look right.”
Chandler, the police spokesman, said the muting issues also would be examined by the department.
“All of the muting related to this incident, that will be part of our investigation, looking at why the body-worn cameras were muted and if it was appropriate,” he said.