The unrepresented dead
Deaths of Stephon Clark and Joseph Mann have created heightened awareness about the role of county prosecutors
Thomas Dean Correll was found hanging by his neck from a piece of clothing in his downtown Sacramento cell. He was 53, white and in custody for a parole violation.
Ryan Ellis died after falling out of a moving patrol car in North Highlands with his handcuffs still on. He was 29, black and had been arrested for violating a restraining order.
Mikel Laney McIntyre was shot and killed in Rancho Cordova by sheriff’s deputies who say he attacked them with a river rock. His mother says her son just needed help. McIntyre was 32, black and reportedly grieving the death of a relative.
The three cases are among a dozen local instances where someone died after coming into contact with law enforcement last year. More than four months into the new year, the Sacramento County district attorney’s office has yet to report on any of the officer-involved shootings or in-custody deaths that occurred in 2017, despite a commitment to conduct independent investigations that “serve the interests of justice, the community, the involved officers, those persons injured, and the families of those affected,” the DA’s office says on the webpage devoted to use-of-force reviews.
The lack of timely public accounting is actually one of the smaller political garbage fires for District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert, who is running for reelection at a time of heightened awareness about the role county prosecutors like her play in holding officers accountable for their actions.
Since the March 18 police killing of Stephon Clark, an unarmed black man who was shot dead in his grandmother’s backyard, groups such as Black Lives Matter have been making the DA’s office a regular stop on their protest route. On Tuesday, local chapters of the American Civil Liberties Union and National Lawyers Guild gathered outside her office with other organizations to ask why Schubert was ducking their invitation to publicly debate challenger Noah Phillips, a homicide prosecutor running on a reformer’s platform.
“We’ve offered her multiple dates,” Elizabeth Kim, of the National Lawyers Guild’s local chapter, told reporters Tuesday morning. “She’s stopped responding to them.”
Added Tifanei Ressl-Moyer, of the local ACLU chapter, “Sacramento deserves a district attorney who will show up.”
Schubert’s campaign consultant Dave Gilliard issued a statement to SN&R saying his candidate has already debated Phillips once in a non-public setting and “will continue to consider debate requests from credible and unbiased organizations, but will not accept requests from groups including the ACLU that have already demonstrated extreme bias in this race or on criminal justice matters.”
Make no mistake: Schubert is still in the driver’s seat in this election. As the incumbent, she holds advantages over Phillips when it comes to name recognition, fundraising and big-name political endorsements.
But Phillips has been closing the gap in all categories since the death of Clark, a 22-year-old father of two who was shot mostly in the back by two officers who mistook his cellphone for a gun, according to a private family autopsy and body-camera footage.
Both the Bernie Sanders-affiliated Real Justice PAC and Democracy for America have thrown their support behind Phillips, while prominent local Democrats are calling on Mayor Darrell Steinberg and the rest of the Sacramento City Council to rescind their endorsements of Schubert. Local activists have also been calling on Schubert to return tens of thousands of dollars in campaign donations she received from law enforcement groups in the days following Clark’s death, and are demanding that she charges the two officers in the shooting, who were responding to calls of a subject breaking car windows last month when a sheriff’s helicopter directed them to Clark.
While it’s early to expect a decision from Schubert’s office on the Clark killing, the public’s frustration with her isn’t borne out of a vacuum.
Since taking office in 2015, Schubert has prosecuted more activists for civil disobedience than she has officers involved in misconduct. Her office declined to file charges in 21 officer-involved shootings and 13 in-custody deaths through 2016. The office has yet to publicly announce decisions on eight officer-involved shootings and four in-custody deaths from last year, according to an SN&R review of public data. This year so far, there is the Clark homicide and two deaths that occurred inside Sacramento County’s downtown jail, which is run by the Sheriff’s Department.
Asked why the DA’s office has released no use-of-force reviews since the end of 2016, a spokeswoman said only that the webpage “is up-to-date with completed reviews.”
Schubert’s political opponent says the public is responding to not just the Clark case, but Schubert’s entire record on fatal law enforcement encounters.
“People are very, very upset,” Phillips said. “If you look at the pattern, as a status quo with regard to officer-involved shootings, their frustration and anger becomes all the more clear.”
If Schubert determines that charges are warranted against the officers who killed Clark, identified by an attorney as Terrence Mercadal and Jared Robinet, it would be unprecedented for her. The California Attorney General’s Office last month took the unusual step of announcing it would oversee her investigation, which Schubert said she supported. Meanwhile, hard feelings remain over her decision to not press criminal charges in the July 2016 police killing of Joseph Mann.
For Mann, a 50-year-old African-American man struggling with depression and drug use, his death occurred after police responded to a call of an armed subject acting erratically outside of an apartment complex in north Sacramento. An initial fleet of officers was ordering Mann to surrender and attempting to contain his movements when two late-arriving officers—John Tennis and Randy Lozoya—raced to the scene, attempted to hit Mann with their patrol vehicle twice, then exited their car and shot Mann 14 times. Tennis said he believed Mann was armed with a gun, but police only found a small knife in his hand.
In exonerating Tennis and Lozoya, Schubert’s office made no mention of the officers’ attempts to run over Mann or how that escalated the situation. The Police Department fired Tennis for violating its use of force policy. Lozoya medically retired in lieu of termination. Mann’s death sparked a citywide campaign for police reforms that has accelerated since the Clark shooting.
In November, Mann’s brother Robert told SN&R that Schubert was an obstacle to true reform.
“The department has to be cleaned up,” he said. “And if the DA’s not willing to do her job, to make sure that this happens, then she needs to be removed. You need to get somebody in there that’s really there for the people and not just there for the Police Department.”
Asked about the upcoming election, Robert Mann made a prediction. “She won’t be there,” he stressed. “I guarantee. I guarantee. We’re going to be pushing hard and heavy for her to be removed from her position. Definitely.”