SACRAMENTO — Thanks to a three-month-old California law, police departments now have to publicly disclose certain investigative records related to officer-involved shootings, among other kinds of cases.
On Tuesday, Sacramento police complied with that law and gave the public its first sense of what the officers who killed Stephon Clark were thinking and saying right after the incident in their own words.
“I remember thinking … I’m like, ‘This guy’s freaking shooting at …’ I was like, ‘Is that a gun? He’s shooting at me,'” said Sacramento police Officer Terrance Mercadal.
That’s part of what Officer Mercadal had to say to the homicide supervisor interviewing him six hours after he helped shoot Clark to death while pursuing him as a burglary suspect.
His comments were recorded and put into a 672-page report on the killing released by the Sacramento Police Department.
The public and the police department are now keenly aware that Clark only had a cell phone and no weapon at all when 20 rounds were fired at him, seven of them hitting him while he was in his grandmother’s backyard last March.
Describing himself as scared, Mercadal said he fired after seeing a bright light he thought was a muzzle flash and Clark moving toward him through the dark yard with his arms outstretched.
When asked if he identified himself as a police officer his response was, “I don’t … I’m not quite sure if I had, if I did.”
The other officer who shot at Clark was a four-year veteran of the force. Officer Jared Robinet was also interviewed in the early morning hours of March 19, 2018.
Before he sat down with a homicide supervisor he was allowed to view his own body camera footage and that of Officer Mercadal.
Here’s how he recounted the moments leading up to the shooting that has sparked nationwide outrage, during which he says he saw Clark “with his hands punched out with something in his hands:”
“I was scared. Like I say, I was scared he was going to shoot us. I really felt like that was a gun. His position, like I said, was something I recognized as a firing position from all the training and all the firearms training that I’ve been through in the last nine years.”
Robinet was a border patrol agent before going on patrol for the city of Sacramento.
The report goes on to say, “He completely had the drop on us, meaning that he would have started or could have started shooting and would have easily hit (Terrance).”
Much has been made about the muting of the body camera audio at the scene of Clark’s killing.
Sacramento police Officer Lungren was interviewed 11 days after his colleagues shot Clark to death.
He told the examiner he muted his body camera to have a personal conversation with Mercadal and Robinet. He said he had concern for whether or not they were hurt physically or emotionally and asked, “Hey, are you guys OK?” They both apparently responded, “Yeah.”