20 bullets fired: Police kill unarmed black man holding cellphone in own backyard

Family, friends and the Sacramento community are demanding answers in the death of an unarmed black man killed by police in his own backyard Sunday night, holding nothing but a cellphone in his hand.

Sacramento Police Chief Daniel Hahn told Fox40 that officers fired on Stephon Alonzo “Zoe” Clark a total of 20 times. Clark, 23, died at the scene, leaving behind two young sons. 

Hahn was on hand Tuesday night at a City Council meeting, where several residents of the community protested the officer-involved shooting. 

“To hell with Sac PD,” resident Rebecca Person said, according to the news station. “I’m sick of them always murdering black youth.”

“What is the police’s job to do? To shoot people that are unarmed in their own backyard?” another resident, Robert Copeland, asked. 

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Fox40 reported that the Sacramento Police Department is under fire for its morphing story of what Clark was carrying. 

“They put one story out that he may have been armed. They put out another that he had a toolbar, whatever that is,” Tanya Faison, a member of the Sacramento chapter of Black Lives Matter, told the news station. “Then they put out that he had a wrench and then they put out that he just had a cellphone. 

“They need to get it together.”

The two officers involved in the shooting are being criticized for waiting five minutes, until additional officers came to the scene, to handcuff Clark and begin rendering first aid.

Department officials are also facing criticism for not promptly informing Clark’s family, including the grandparents and siblings he lived with, that he was the one gunned down in their yard. 

Fox40 reported that Clark’s family called 911 for help after hearing gunshots right outside their window. 

Sequita Thompson, Clark’s grandmother, told the Sacramento Bee that she was sitting in her dining room when she heard the shots.

“The only thing that I heard was, ‘pow, pow, pow, pow,’ and I got to the ground,” Thompson told the newspaper

Thompson described crawling to where her 7-year-old granddaughter slept on a couch in an adjacent den, where she got the girl onto the floor. She then made her way to her husband, who uses a wheelchair, and he dialed 911. 

Thompson said neither she nor her husband heard officers issue any commands prior to firing the fatal gunshots. 

The grieving grandmother told the Bee that investigators interviewed her for hours about what she heard, but never told her it was her grandson who had been killed. She finally looked out a window and saw his body.

“I opened that curtain and he was dead. I started screaming,” Thompson said

Sequita Thompson points to the white area on her family's patio where she said her grandson, 23-year-old Stephon Clark, lay dead after being shot Sunday, March 18, 2018, by police in Sacramento, Calif. Relatives, activists and Sacramento officials are questioning why officers shot at an unarmed black man 20 times, killing him, when he turned out to be holding only a cellphone in his own backyard. ((Renee C. Byer/The Sacramento Bee via AP))

Hahn said he and his investigators initially had no idea Clark was related to the homeowners. 

“We found out they were related because the family told us so,” the chief told Fox40.

Hahn said in a news release Monday that officers were called to the family’s neighborhood around 9:15 p.m. Sunday on a report of a man breaking several car windows. The suspect was described as a thin man, just over 6 feet in height and wearing a black hoodie and dark pants. The caller said the man was hiding in a backyard.

Dispatchers sent officers to the scene, where the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department also had a helicopter searching for the suspect from the air, the news release said. About 12 minutes after the 911 call was made, the crew in the helicopter told officers on the ground they saw the alleged suspect in a backyard, where he picked up what looked like a toolbar and broke the sliding glass door of the home before running south toward the front of the house. 

That house was next door to the Thompsons’ home.

The officers on the ground, directed to his location by the helicopter crew, confronted Clark as he came up along the side of his grandparents’ home, the news release said. When they ordered him to show his hands, he fled to the backyard, officials said. 

“Officers pursued the suspect and located him in the backyard of the residence,” the news release said. “The suspect turned and advanced towards the officers while holding an object which was extended in front of him.”

Believing the object was a gun, the officers opened fire, the news release said. Clark was struck multiple times, though the exact number of gunshot wounds was not immediately known.

A follow-up news release issued later Monday stated that no weapon was found near Clark’s body.

“After an exhaustive search, scene investigators did not locate any firearms,” the news release stated. “The only item found near the suspect was a cellphone.”

Homicide investigators and crime scene technicians said they found three vehicles with damage they believe Clark caused, as well as the shattered sliding glass door that the helicopter crew said they witnessed him break, the news release said

The only items investigators found that could have been the toolbar described by the helicopter crew included a cinder block and a piece of aluminum that may have come from a gutter. Both were found near the broken sliding glass door, the Bee reported

Both officers involved in the shooting have been placed on administrative leave, the newspaper said. One of the officers has eight years of law enforcement experience, half of it with the Sacramento department. 

The other officer has six years total experience, two of those in Sacramento. 

Sacramento city policy requires any body-camera footage of an officer-involved shooting to be made public within 30 days, the Bee reported

Hahn said he plans to release the officers’ body camera footage, as well as footage from a camera aboard the helicopter, after it has been shared with Clark’s family, Fox40 reported. He anticipated having the footage released by week’s end. 

The Sacramento County District Attorney’s Office, the city attorney’s office and the city’s Office of Public Safety Accountability are investigating the shooting, as is the department’s homicide and internal affairs units. 

The Bee reported that Clark was at least the 17th person to die in confrontations with law enforcement in Sacramento County in the past two years. Besides the young father, three others were unarmed. 

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