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Family Of Stephon Clark Releases Findings Of Independent Autopsy


An unarmed black man who was killed by a Sacramento police officers earlier this month was clearly shot from behind. That's the assessment today from an independent autopsy commissioned by the family of Stephon Clark. The police have said that the 22-year-old was approaching two officers when they opened fire. His death has sparked protests that have been going on for the last week. His funeral was held yesterday. Ben Adler of Capital Public Radio has been covering this story and joins us now from Sacramento. Hi, Ben.


SHAPIRO: What exactly did this independent autopsy find, and how did those findings compare with what the Sacramento Police Department's been saying?

ADLER: Well, when the police department first released the body camera video of the shooting, it said in a statement, quote, "the involved officers saw the suspect facing them advance forward with his arms extended and holding an object in his hands" - a cellphone that the officers perceived to be a gun.

But according to the independent autopsy conducted on behalf of the family, the facts don't support that police narrative. It found Clark was shot eight times out of the 20 rounds fired by the two officers, most of them in the back. Dr. Bennet Omalu, the forensic pathologist who conducted the investigation, says it's reasonable to conclude that seven of the bullets entered Clark's back, and he spun after being hit by the first bullet.


BENNET OMALU: The proposition that has been presented that he was assailing the officers, meaning he was facing the officers, is inconsistent with the prevailing forensic evidence as documented at autopsy.

ADLER: Now, the autopsy also found that Clark did not die immediately but instead between three and 10 minutes after the shots. And the police officers did not seek to treat him until five minutes after they shot him. So one of the many questions about this incident is why officers waited that long.

SHAPIRO: Tell us more about the pathologist Dr. Omalu.

ADLER: Yeah. He's a Nigerian-born forensic pathologist, the first doctor to report on the traumatic brain injury known as CTE in football players. You might remember him as being played by Will Smith in the movie "Concussion." The NFL pushed back against him quite strongly for a while only to later admit that brain injuries are real.

SHAPIRO: At this point, can any conclusions be drawn from this about how police handled the incident?

ADLER: Well, Sacramento officials are warning against jumping to conclusions, and one outside police expert agrees. It's Ronal Serpas, a professor at Loyola University New Orleans and a former police chief in New Orleans and Nashville. He told NPR this afternoon that in shootings he's analyzed in the past like this one, the body can turn very quickly.

RONAL SERPAS: One or more shots that might be in the backside of an individual when the entire case is put together may not seem as obnoxious or untoward as it does before you know all the facts.

ADLER: The police department says it acknowledges the importance of this case to the community and is committed to a thorough and comprehensive investigation. And Mayor Darrell Steinberg said in a statement that the city will aggressively seek answers to all of the questions the community is rightfully asking and change to the protocols and training that led to an unacceptable outcome.

As for the timing of the official autopsy, the Sacramento County Coroner's Office is closed today for a state holiday, but yesterday it said it hadn't even written the report. And so, Ari, we could be waiting for weeks for the autopsy and the official investigation that the police and district attorney are conducting with oversight from the California attorney general's office.

SHAPIRO: And just briefly, how is the community reacting to this latest information?

ADLER: Well, here's Tanya Faison, one of the leaders of Black Lives Matter Sacramento, who attended today's news conference.

TANYA FAISON: The police lied about everything. They lied about every single thing. How many others have they lied about?

ADLER: Her group has led protests repeatedly and a new one now set for tonight. So there is the potential to turn what has been a significantly high simmer into a full boil.

SHAPIRO: Ben Adler is Capitol bureau chief for Capital Public Radio in Sacramento. Thank you.

ADLER: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ben Adler