Sacramento, CA (AP) — Federal authorities declined to pursue civil rights charges Thursday against Sacramento police officers who fatally shot an unarmed black man, a killing that sparked protests and spurred changes to a state law governing when authorities can use deadly force.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office and the FBI said a federal review of the 2018 shooting of 22-year-old Stephon Clark found “insufficient evidence” to pursue charges against Officers Terrance Mercadal and Jared Robinet. Both will be returned to active duty.
The California attorney general’s office in March declined to issue state criminal charges after a nearly yearlong investigation. Attorney General Xavier Becerra said then evidence showed the officers had reason to believe their lives were in danger because he was advancing toward them holding what they thought was a gun. Investigators found only a cellphone.
Sacramento police also announced Thursday their internal investigation did not find any policy or training violations.
“Although no policy violations occurred in this incident or in the events leading up to it, we are committed to implementing strategies that may prevent similar tragedies in the future,” Sacramento Police Chief Daniel Hahn said in a statement.
Clark’s brother, Stevante Clark, posted on Facebook Thursday that he was in a meeting with federal and local authorities. “These people have failed when it comes to (accountability),” he wrote.
Authorities have said the officers believed Clark was approaching them with a gun after he ran from them into his grandparents’ backyard. The officers had been pursuing Clark after receiving calls about someone breaking car windows and an elderly neighbor’s sliding glass door.
The officers shot Clark seven times as he approached them.
The federal investigation looked at evidence such as witness statements, audio and video recordings, dispatch records, police reports, and autopsy reports to determine whether the officers acted willfully with the intent to use objectively unreasonable force.
Lawmakers last month updated the nation’s oldest law governing police use of deadly force, making it now among the country’s most comprehensive when combined with additional training.
California’s old standard made it rare for police officers to be charged following a shooting and rarer still for them to be convicted. It was based on the doctrine of “reasonable fear,” meaning if prosecutors or jurors believed officers had a reason to fear for their safety, they could use lethal force.
The new law, which takes effect Jan. 1, will allow police to use deadly force only when “necessary” to defend against an imminent threat of death or serious injury to officers or bystanders.