By Sharon Bernstein
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Reuters) – California’s attorney general joined an investigation on Tuesday into this month’s killing by Sacramento police of an unarmed black man standing in his grandparents’ backyard, a death that sparked street protests.
The slaying of Stephon Clark, 22, was the latest in a long string of fatal shootings of black men by police officers that have raised questions about race and justice in the United States and fueled the Black Lives Matter movement.
“Due to the nature of this investigation, the extremely high emotions, anger and hurt in our city, I felt it was (in) the best interest of our entire community … to ask the attorney general to be an independent part of this investigation,” Sacramento Police Chief Daniel Hahn, the department’s first black leader, said at a news conference.
Hours after the attorney general’s announcement, protesters interrupted a city council meeting, chanting “Stephon Clark” as his brother Stevonte sat on the table in front of Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg, a video posted on the website of CBS News showed.
“The mayor and the city of Sacramento has failed all of you,” his brother said to the crowded chamber.
Protesters then marched to Golden 1 Center, where the Sacramento Kings were about to tip off their NBA game against the Dallas Mavericks. They blocked the entrance and prevented many fans from entering the arena, much like they did last week, Sacramento media reported.
Two Sacramento officers, responding to a report of someone shattering car windows, shot Clark in his grandparents’ backyard on the night of March 18. Clark was holding an object the officers believed was a firearm, but after he fell they only found a cell phone by his body, police said.
The family disputes police accounts that Clark was breaking car windows and plans to file a lawsuit against the city.
“We fully expect that the California Attorney General’s Office will do a complete and thorough investigation that is fair and impartial,” Benjamin Crump, the family’s attorney, said in a statement.
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said state investigators will act independently while overseeing the investigation, and will also review the Police Department’s procedures and practices.
Sacramento police have not released the names of the two officers who opened fire, citing concerns about their safety. One officer is white and the other is black, and they have both been placed on leave, police said.
(Reporting by Peter Szekely in New York and Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles; Editing by Dan Grebler, Matthew Lewis and Paul Tait)