SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California’s attorney general said Tuesday that he won’t charge two Sacramento police officers who fatally shot an unarmed black man last year, a killing that set off intense protests.
Attorney General Xavier Becerra’s conclusion to a nearly yearlong investigation follows a Sacramento district attorney finding last weekend that the officers broke no laws when they shot 22-year-old Stephon Clark.
Officers Terrance Mercadal and Jared Robinet said they mistakenly thought Clark was approaching them with a gun after he ran from them into his grandparents’ backyard as police investigated vandalism. Investigators found only a cellphone.
Becerra acknowledged that the killing was devastating for Clark’s family but that his review found Clark had been committing crimes and officers believed he was armed and their lives were in danger when they opened fire.
Becerra, who called for changes in law enforcement practices to prevent other shootings, said there was plenty of evidence to support his conclusion. Still, he said it was not an easy decision.
“There’s a young man who’s no longer alive,” Becerra said. “Two sons who won’t have a father. Whose mother I just met is still grieving. Of course it was a tough call. These are all tough calls. It’s never easy.”
Before announcing the decision, he met with Clark’s mother, SeQuette Clark, who was expected to speak to reporters later in the day.
Clark was shot seven times on March 18, 2018, and his killing prompted protests in California’s capital city and across the U.S.
New demonstrations followed Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert’s decision not to charge the officers, with more than 80 people arrested Monday in a wealthy Sacramento neighborhood.
Clark’s family and black community leaders urged Becerra to reach a different conclusion.
“I would like for the attorney general to prosecute the officers,” brother Stevante Clark said Sunday. “I want justice and accountability.”
Both Becerra and Schubert concluded that the officers feared for their lives when they shot Clark, who they thought was holding a gun. They were pursuing him after receiving calls about someone breaking car windows and a neighbor’s sliding glass door.
The attorney general and district attorney said the evidence showed Clark was advancing toward the officers holding what they thought was a gun when they shot him.
Top state officials are supporting changes to California’s legal standard for when police can use deadly force.
Lawmakers have revived a measure introduced after Clark’s slaying that would make California the first state to allow police to use deadly force only when it’s necessary to prevent imminent and serious injury or death and if there’s no reasonable alternative, such as warnings or other methods.
Strong opposition from law enforcement agencies stalled it last year.
Becerra was vague about what reforms he would support but said change was needed.
“This incident reads like the bitterly familiar passages of a long, complicated and uninviting book,” he said. “We must all be willing to write the next chapters in this story of what we call American justice.”
Associated Press writers Kathleen Ronayne in Sacramento and Christopher Weber and Brian Melley in Los Angeles contributed to this report.