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Stephon Clark's Family Urges Criminal Charges Against Police Who Shot Him

A tearful Sequita Thompson pleads for police officers who killed her unarmed grandson, Stephon Clark, to face criminal charges. Thompson was accompanied at a news conference by Clark's uncle, Kurtis Gordon (left), and attorney Ben Crump (right).
Rich Pedroncelli
A tearful Sequita Thompson pleads for police officers who killed her unarmed grandson, Stephon Clark, to face criminal charges. Thompson was accompanied at a news conference by Clark's uncle, Kurtis Gordon (left), and attorney Ben Crump (right).

The family of Stephon Clark, a 22-year-old unarmed black man fatally shot by police in his grandparents' back yard, on Monday urged the Sacramento, Calif., district attorney's office to bring criminal charges against the two officers who killed him.

In a press conference held at City Hall, Clark's grandmother, Sequita Thompson, wailed in mourning over the violent and unfathomably sudden death of her grandson, captured on police body cameras and helicopter video overhead.

Thompson demanded an explanation for why officers fired about 20 shots at Clark, who at the time was holding a borrowed cellphone in his hand. Police said at the time they believed it was a gun.

"They didn't have to kill him like that. They didn't have to shoot him that many times," she sobbed, as Clark's uncle, Kurtis Gordon, wiped tears from her face.

"Why didn't you shoot him in the arm? Shoot him in the leg? Send the dogs? Send the Taser? Why?" she asked.

Civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump is representing the family in the case and cradled Thompson as she wept on his shoulder.

In recent years, Crump has handled several high-profile officer-involved shooting cases, including Tamir Rice and Michael Brown.

Crump drew comparisons between the Sacramento police officers' response when dealing with Clark, a black suspect, and that of law enforcement in other cities pursuing white suspects.

The Florida high school shooter who allegedly killed 17 people last month before he was apprehended, "was not shot once. But a young black man holding a cellphone is shot 20 times," he said. "Young man who was bombing homes in Austin, [Texas], the police followed him for hours. He wasn't shot once. But an unarmed black man holding a cellphone is shot 20 times."

"We will stand up for Stephon, we will speak up for Stephon ... until we get justice," he added.

Crump said the family is calling for policy changes within the police department, including implicit bias training. They also want to prohibit officers from muting body camera audio, which the policeman involved in the shooting did after killing Clark.

Additionally, Crump said, Clark's family has commissioned an independent autopsy.

Alice Huffman and Betty Williams of the NAACP were among nearly a dozen African-American community leaders standing with Clark's family Monday.

After the press conference, Huffman toldThe Sacramento Bee that efforts by the NAACP to reach Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert had gone unanswered but that the organization is in talks with the U.S. Justice Department's Civil Rights Division about investigating the shooting at the federal level.

Shelly Orio, a spokeswoman with the district attorney's office, told NPR that members of Schubert's office are in the process of setting up a meeting with Williams sometime in the near future.

"The meeting being scheduled with the NAACP is at their request, so we are not sure what they would like to discuss," Orio said in an email. She also added, "The Sacramento County District Attorney's Office reviews all officer-involved shootings that occur in the county which result in injury or death."

Activists and protesters have been demonstrating in the days since footage of the killing was released last week. A day after the videos went viral Black Lives Matter led a march that spilled onto Interstate 5, shutting down traffic in both directions during rush hour.

As NPR reported, over the weekend protesters merged with the March for Our Lives event against gun violence on school campuses. That drew the attention of the Rev. Al Sharpton, who said on MSNBC that he would attend Thursday's funeral for Clark.

On Sunday night, basketball players from the Sacramento Kings and Boston Celtics wore black T-shirts with Clark's name on the back during a pregame warmup.

Before collapsing into Crump's embrace Monday, Thompson stared up toward the ceiling and pleaded for justice.

"I want justice for my baby. I want justice for Stephon Clark," she cried.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Vanessa Romo is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers breaking news on a wide range of topics, weighing in daily on everything from immigration and the treatment of migrant children, to a war-crimes trial where a witness claimed he was the actual killer, to an alleged sex cult. She has also covered the occasional cat-clinging-to-the-hood-of-a-car story.