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Family of Stephon Clark seeks $20 million in wrongful-death suit against Sacramento

Family of Stephon Clark seeks $20 million in wrongful-death suit against Sacramento
A protester holds a photo of Stephon Clark during a Black Lives Matter demonstration outside Sacramento City Hall on March 22, 2018. (Justin Sullivan / Getty Images)

Lawyers for the family of Stephon Clark, an unarmed black man who was shot and killed by police in March 2018, filed a civil rights lawsuit Monday seeking more than $20 million from the city of Sacramento and the two officers at the center of the controversial shooting.

The federal lawsuit follows a wrongful-death claim the family filed against the city in September, alleging battery, negligence, false imprisonment and failure to summon medical attention for the 22-year-old Clark. The family was seeking $35 million in punitive damages: at least $20 million for Clark’s two children and $15 million for his parents and grandparents.

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Dale Galipo, the attorney representing Clark's family in the lawsuit, said the city has not issued its finding as to whether Sacramento Police officers Terrence Mercadal and Jared Robinet were within policy or whether they will be disciplined.

"We're hopeful the city will consider reaching an amicable settlement," Galipo said.

The lawsuit alleges that Mercadal and Robinet fired 20 rounds at Clark, hitting him at least eight times, including several shots to his back. Clark, who was holding only a cellphone, died at his home in the Meadowview neighborhood.

The lawsuit claims that the officers violated Clark's constitutional rights and that they were negligent because they failed to identify themselves as police officers and gave no proper warning to Clark about the use of deadly force before firing their guns

“Plaintiffs have also been deprived of the lifelong love, companionship, comfort, support, society, care and sustenance of [Clark] and will continue to be so deprived for the remainder of their natural lives,” according to the 31-page court document.

The family’s suit says the shooting has caused them emotional distress, including anxiety, grief and fright.

The lawsuit also blames the city for not properly training the police officers.

A spokesperson for the Sacramento Police Department could not be reached for comment.

The shooting occurred on March 18, 2018 when two officers investigating reports of someone breaking into cars chased Clark into a yard, where authorities say he turned and advanced toward the officers while holding what they thought was a firearm.

Clark’s death sparked a massive outcry in the weeks that followed and intensified simmering tensions between the police and the city’s black community. Demonstrations have been held outside the Sacramento County district attorney's office, urging the filing of criminal charges against the police officers.

Video footage released by the Sacramento Police Department in April showed that officers waited almost five minutes after firing their weapons to approach Clark to deliver medical aid. Officers apparently were concerned that he was armed and playing dead.

Galipo said federal civil rights lawsuits are the only way to hold law enforcement officers accountable because few officers are ever criminally charged, which adds to the ongoing frustrations of the community.

"It's like the kid that misbehaves at school," Galipo said. "If there's no repercussion, the conduct continues."

In August, Sacramento police unveiled a new foot pursuit policy created by the department’s use of force committee, which is made up of community members and police officers. The policy directs officers to consider safety factors for the protection of themselves and the public before deciding to pursue a suspect. They’re also required to turn on their body cameras and identify themselves, and must provide some details about the chase and suspect.

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