Sacramento police fatally shot a 22-year-old black man on Sunday night after reportedly believing that the cell phone in his hand was a gun. Stephon Clark was shot in his backyard when police responded to reports of a person breaking the windows of cars in the area. Police initially claimed Clark had a firearm in his possession, but no firearm was found at the scene.
According to a press release from the Sacramento Police Department, the Sacramento Sheriff’s Department’s helicopter had observed a man hiding in a backyard and identified him to police officers as a suspect. The helicopter then notified officers that the suspect had allegedly picked up a toolbar and broken the window of a house.
Officers ultimately approached Clark in the backyard of his home — authorities have still not confirmed that Clark was the suspect officers were pursuing — and ordered him to show them his hands. Officers then reportedly mistook the cell phone in Clark's hand for a gun and shot at him 20 times. Following the shooting, Sacramento police said in a press release that they believed Clark had an "object" that he "extended in front of him" as he approached two police officers.
Clark's 25-year-old brother Stevante told The Sacramento Bee that Clark was shot in the backyard of the home he shared with his grandparents and some siblings.
According to The Washington Post, the two officers who fired at Clark never identified themselves as police officers. Sequita Thompson, Clark's grandmother, told The Sacramento Bee that she was home when the shooting occurred, and that she dropped to the ground after she heard gunshots. She reportedly did not hear police ask Clark to drop what he had been holding.
Thompson's husband reportedly called 911 to report the gunshots, after police interviewed her for several hours about what she had heard. However, Sacramento police reportedly did not inform Thompson that her grandson had been killed; she told the Bee that she only found out when she looked out the window herself.
“I opened that curtain and he was dead," she told the Bee. "I started screaming.”
The fact that Clark was shot in his own backyard while holding a cell phone, coupled with the fact that at least 38 black people have been killed by police in 2018, has prompted concern from activists working to combat police brutality. Tanya Faison, the founder of the Black Lives Matter Sacramento chapter, told local outlet Fox40 that the police department's conflicting accounts of what took place add to this concern.
"They put one story out that he may have been armed," Faison told reporters. "They put out another that he had a tool bar, whatever that is. Then they put out that he had a wrench and then they put out that he just had a cellphone. They need to get it together."
The police department publicly released body camera footage from the shooting on Wednesday — and the footage showed the two officers muting their microphones following the shooting, after backup had arrived. This also prompted concern from Sacramento activists, who wondered what the officers had said to one another while their microphones were muted. Sacramento police spokesman Sgt. Vance Chandler said, however, that "there are a variety of reasons" that police officers might mute their body cameras.
Clark was reportedly the father of two young children, aged one and three years old. His brother Stevante told the HuffPost that Clark's older child has been asking where "daddy" is since the shooting.
“I want people to know all he cared about ― more than anything else in life ― was his children,” Stevante told the HuffPost. “His children meant most to him.”
Stevante has launched a GoFundMe fundraiser so that Clark's grandmother can pay for his funeral. The GoFundMe has already acquired almost $28,500 — more than half of its $50,000 goal. According to the Sacramento Police Department's press release, both officers involved in Clark's shooting have been placed on paid administrative leave.