Armed with a cellphone

Sacramento police kill unarmed black man in his grandmother’s backyard

This is an extended version of a story that appears in the March 22, 2018, issue.

Two officers opened fire on an unarmed black man who may have pointed a cellphone at them while standing in his grandmother’s backyard Sunday night.

The fatal shooting and discrepancies over what happened in the moments leading up to it have touched a raw nerve in Sacramento’s Meadowview neighborhood, which is grieving the loss of one of its own this week.

The Sacramento Police Department issued two media releases within 15 minutes of each other on Monday night. The dueling releases show the department revising its account more than 24 hours after the shooting occurred and present police Chief Daniel Hahn with his first real test at a time of intense public scrutiny over law enforcement’s use of force.

The first release describes a scenario in which officers scoured a neighborhood for a tall, thin man in dark clothing who allegedly broke several car windows and took an unspecified “toolbar” to a sliding-glass door before advancing toward officers in an adjacent backyard with something extended in his hands. Thinking the object was a gun, officers opened fire, “striking the suspect numerous times,” the release states.

The release says officers “held their positions for approximately five minutes” until additional units arrived, before handcuffing the suspect and rendering aid.

The second release issued to the media minutes after the first includes two important updates. First, it says that “an exhaustive search” found no weapons. All that was near the shooting victim was a cellphone. The second update is that the man was killed outside of a residence he has “a familial association to.”

A GoFundMe page identified the victim as Stephon “Zoe” Clark, a father of two. By Tuesday afternoon, the page had raised $4,177 toward its $5,000 goal for burial costs.

Berry Accius, a youth mentor who says Clark attended Sacramento Charter High School with his daughter, attended a Monday night vigil on the 7500 block of 29th Street, where the shooting occurred. Accius says relatives told him Clark was probably trying to get his grandmother’s attention when officers mistook him for a burglar. He questioned the department’s initial account of a suspect aggressively approaching officers and feared that’s how the larger public would now remember Clark.

“You can’t unring that bell,” he said.