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A grandfather was sleeping when the St. Louis police raided his home and fatally shot him, lawsuit says

Don Clark Sr. was fatally shot in St. Louis in 2017 when law enforcement agents raided his home in the middle of the night. His family is now suing the police department. (KMOV)

Don Clark Sr., a 63-year-old Army veteran, was fast asleep in his St. Louis home in February 2017 when more than a dozen SWAT team members rammed down his door and threw a stun grenade device inside.

As Clark was startled awake, one of the police officers allegedly began shooting without warning, striking Clark nine times, according to a new lawsuit filed by the man’s family. As blood pooled underneath his body, Clark died almost immediately.

Four years after the incident, Clark’s children are suing the police department for monetary damages and changes to law-enforcement policy, alleging that St. Louis Metropolitan police officers unlawfully executed a “no-knock” warrant on their father’s home, used excessive force and robbed the grandfather of his life.

The lawsuit claims that Clark, who was Black, was unarmed. He was sleeping when police detonated a “diversionary device,” documents add, which caused a flash and loud bang. He was then allegedly shot and killed without knowing it was police officers who entered his home, according to the lawsuit.

“Ultimately, I think that Don Clark Sr.’s death was a preventable tragedy,” attorney Jerryl Christmas said in a news release after the lawsuit was filed last week. “Had the police done their due diligence, this would have never happened.”

The St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment late Wednesday. A police spokeswoman told KMOV the department would not comment on pending litigation.

But the lawsuit’s assertions conflict with statements initially made by police following the 2017 incident.

Sam Dotson, the St. Louis police chief at the time, said the SWAT team knocked on the door and announced they were police. He then said police were met with a gunshot fired from inside Clark’s home, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

Raids in which police provide little or no warning to occupants have faced criticism in recent years. In March 2020, Breonna Taylor was shot and killed by Louisville police officers during a botched raid at her apartment after midnight. That June, as protests grew over her death and police brutality nationwide, the Louisville city council banned no-knock warrants. In December, Virginia followed with a no-knock warrant ban of its own, and other states and cities have tried to pass similar prohibitions.

Louisville bans ‘no-knock’ warrants after police killing of Breonna Taylor inside her home

How St. Louis police obtained the no-knock warrant to raid Clark’s home late on Feb. 21, 2017, is central to his family’s lawsuit, which claims Officer Thomas Strode, a detective, used bad information and “lied” to get clearance to enter the house.

In an affidavit, according to the lawsuit, Strode alleged that Clark “sold illegal drugs and harbored both illegal drugs and illegal firearms in his home.” They were allegations he supported with “confidential informants,” the lawsuit states. The officer also claimed he observed “foot and vehicle traffic consistent with narcotic trafficking activity” at Clark’s home, documents add.

“Mr. Clark did not store any drugs in his home and had never been convicted of a crime,” the lawsuit states, alleging Strode falsely assigned activity from Clark’s neighbors to his home.

The only visitors Clark saw, the lawsuit says, were his children, grandchildren and a home health care provider.

But the raid went forward on the night of Feb. 21, 2017. Earlier that day, Clark had a doctor’s appointment. He took public transit, which “sapped extra energy” from the 63-year-old, according to the documents.

Clark told his son he was looking forward to getting a good night’s rest, but after he had fallen asleep at about 8 p.m., 17 police officers rammed through his door and set off the diversionary device — without warning they were law enforcement and they would enter, the lawsuit alleges.

One police officer, Nicholas Manasco, then “shot a barrage of bullets from an assault rifle,” the lawsuit says. “At least nine bullets entered Mr. Clark’s body, nearly ripping his forearm from his elbow joint.”

Clark fell face down beside his bed. “The officers never tried to stanch the blood,” the lawsuit alleges. “Mr. Clark tried to speak, but all that came out was an unintelligible mumble.”

Clark died soon after.

“Upon information and belief, Mr. Clark was unarmed when Defendant Manasco began shooting him, never shot at the officers, nor did anything that would give any reason to believe that he was an immediate threat to the Defendant Officers or the public,” the lawsuit says.

Yet, immediately following the incident, police told a different story: Clark shot at officers as they entered, and police recovered a gun and at least one shell casing at the scene, the Post-Dispatch reported. Dotson, then the chief, said a six-month investigation had led police to the three homes they raided on the block that night, including Clark’s.

At the time, however, neighbors told the newspaper they were surprised Clark, known as “Pops,” would be raided for possession of drugs and guns. Lekeysha Tate, a longtime resident on the block, told the Post-Dispatch that Clark spent much of his time working on cars and often sat on his porch in the evening with a beer.

“He didn’t bother anybody,” she said.