New video footage shows that police believed Stephon Clark was faking his death after officers fired 20 bullets at him, a possible example of him being perceived as a threat due to the color of his skin.
In one of the videos, officers are heard talking among themselves confirming that “he hasn’t moved at all.” They also say they haven’t secured a weapon.
“Hey! Can you hear us” one officer, a male, says.
“Police department, can you hear us” a different male says.
“We need to know if you’re okay,” a female officer calls out. “We need to get you medics but we can’t go over to get you help unless we know you’re, you don’t have your weapon.”
“Sir! Can you move Can you hear us” the female officer yells again.
“Let’s have the next unit get, just bring a non-lethal in case he’s pretending,” the female officer says.
Officers still believed Clark, who was motionless on the ground, may have been armed. Authorities shot him in his grandparents’ backyard on March 18. He was later found to only be holding a cell phone. A spokesman for the department told the Sacramento Bee that the department is now investigating whether the officers acted quickly enough to give Clark, a 22-year-old father of two, medical attention.
Results from a private autopsy revealed that Clark was struck with eight bullets, six of which went in his back.
Seven of the bullets struck the backside of Clark’s body, said forensic pathologist Dr. Bennet Omalu. According to Omalu, any of those seven bullets could have been fatal. It took Clark between three and 10 minutes to die, Omalu said.
No one knows for certain if the five minutes officers spent debating would have saved Clark’s life — “but it would have increased the chances,” police reform activist Rashid Sidqe told the Bee.
A police training expert told the Bee that the officers waited a fair amount of time given the fact that they couldn’t see both of Clark’s hands.
“They approached him as soon as was safely practical,” Ed Obayashi, the expert, said. “From what I am seeing and hearing, the officers in my opinion exercised good tactical decision making.”
But it is possible that implicit bias played a role in assuming Clark’s cell phone was a weapon.
Black men are often perceived as being larger and more capable of causing harm than white men who are the same size, a 2017 study found.
The study, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, concluded that “people have a bias to perceive young Black men as bigger (taller, heavier, more muscular) and more physically threatening (stronger, more capable of harm) than young White men.”
Black men were perceived as larger than they really were by both Black and white participants — but to a greater degree for the white respondents.
However, greater differences arose when researchers asked about subjects’ harm capability.
“Participants also believed that the Black men were more capable of causing harm in a hypothetical altercation and, troublingly, that police would be more justified in using force to subdue them, even if the men were unarmed,” said John Paul Wilson, PhD, of Montclair State University, one of the study’s lead authors.
The newly released videos also reveal that numerous officers at the scene muted their body cams at some point during the night. It is unclear why.
An attorney for the Clark family, Ben Crump, called the officers’ actions “reckless.”
“The actions of the Sacramento Police Department — before and after the shooting — have left us all suspicious,” he said in a statement. “Today, those suspicions were confirmed. This latest horrifying video evidence further proves the reckless, irresponsible and deadly behavior of the police officers involved.”