Several hundred protesters marched through downtown Sacramento on Friday after the release of a private autopsy that contradicted the official account of the police shooting of Stephon Clark.
On the night of 18 March, Clark, a 22-year-old father of two, was standing in his grandmother’s back yard holding only his iPhone when officers, who did not announce they were police, shouted at him to reveal his hands then fired before he could respond.
Friday brought a fourth evening of demonstrations in a row. But protesters were newly animated after a forensic pathologist, Dr Bennet Omalu, said in a news conference Clark was shot eight times, six of the bullets entering his body from behind.
“The proposition that has been presented that … he was facing the officers is inconsistent with the prevailing forensic evidence,” said Omalu, who is well known for his role in the discovery of brain injuries in NFL players.
One demonstrator, Latarria McCain, said later: “His back was turned, he didn’t get a chance.”
A day after the shooting, police said the officers who shot Clark “saw the suspect facing them, advance forward with his arms extended, and holding an object in his hands”.
Friday’s protest and police response remained largely peaceful, with leaders of Black Lives Matter Sacramento helping diffuse tension. There were reports of a brief scuffle outside a hotel, after police used handcuffs to secure the doors. Protesters and officers also had a brief standoff near a highway ramp, before protesters changed direction.
The former NBA player Matt Barnes has organized a rally for Saturday afternoon, hours before a Sacramento Kings-Golden State Warriors NBA game will bring thousands of fans to the downtown arena protesters have twice blocked already.
Several Kings players joined calls for racial justice at a community meeting on Friday night. The team has been supportive, despite the fact demonstrations have cost it millions in revenue. The team’s owner, Vivek Ranadivé, has produced a TV spot about police violence, established an education fund for Clark’s children and entered partnerships with Black Lives Matter and Build Black Coalition.
Sacramento police responded to Omalu’s findings with a brief statement that said the department had not received an official autopsy report from the coroner’s office. The coroner’s investigation was independent from the police and the state justice department, the statement said.
The department has had to walk back a number of statements on the shooting, including an erroneous claim that Clark was found with a “tool bar”. Police were investigating car vandalization when the shooting occured.
Police video does not clearly capture all that happened after Clark ran into his grandmother’s back yard. He initially moved toward the officers, who were peeking out from a corner of the house, but it was not clear if he was facing them or if he knew they were there when they opened fire, after shouting “gun, gun, gun”.
After 20 shots, officers called to Clark, apparently believing he might be alive and armed. No gun was found.
“When a young man who is 22 is shot down in his grandma’s back yard, which is supposed to be a safe place, I don’t know,” said Nikki Whitfield, an attendee at the community meeting on Friday. “What’s beyond a crisis?”
At the meeting, several hundred members of the black community discussed police brutality, calling out of the names of black people killed by law enforcement.