The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

After Stephon Clark’s death, new videos show police muted body cameras at least 16 times

The Sacramento Police Department published new footage and an audio recording from when Stephon Clark, 22, was killed on March 18. (Video: Allie Caren, Alex Horton/The Washington Post)

The Sacramento Police Department on Monday released dozens of videos related to the Stephon Clark killing — new material that showed officers muting their body-worn cameras at least 16 times, raising more questions about police action in the moments after the fatal shooting of the unarmed black man.

Clark, 22, was hit by eight of the 20 rounds fired by two officers on March 18 in his grandmother’s back yard, according to an independent autopsy requested by his family. He was unarmed. Police have said they believed he was raising a gun at them, but only a white iPhone was found near his body.

Videos show six minutes pass between shots fired and responders attempting chest compressions. Police handcuffed and searched Clark before they began first aid.

As the case gained national attention last month, police released videos that showed the two responding officers muting their body cameras, sparking waves of protests and leading the department to alter its policy, providing stricter rules for when police can disable their cameras.

Monday’s release of more than 50 videos and two audio clips shows several more officers, who arrived in the minutes after the killing, being asked to mute their cameras or deciding to disable them on their own — occurrences not previously disclosed.

Sacramento simmers with tension in wake of fatal police shooting of Stephon Clark

Police released two videos days after the killing, showing one officer telling the two involved officers to mute their cameras.

The release Monday included 28 additional videos of body-camera footage from other officers. An analysis by The Washington Post found 14 instances of muting in recordings from 13 of those cameras (one of them was muted twice). Other instances were not counted if cameras were muted while police talked with civilians.

Some of the muting occurred by choice of the officer. In at least four instances, apparent orders were given to disable the audio.

In one, a female officer recounts to other police what she believed was the version of events.

“We got a call, somebody is breaking into things, then he breaks into this guy’s slider,” she says, describing their belief that Clark was breaking into a home nearby. “Um, hold on,” she says, and her body cam audio is cut.

In another, officers search for potential damage at a nearby church. A group of officers gather. An apparent leader says “Muted?” Two officers both say “Sir.”

He asks again, and they reply: “Yeah.” A fourth officer interjects: “Wait!” He then disables the audio, and the conversation continues.

An officer was asked by his colleague if his body camera was muted on March 18, after officers shot and killed Stephon Clark in Sacramento. (Video: Sacramento Police Department)

Other videos show officers disabling their audio as they canvass the area or converse with other members of the force. Few provide clear context for why the officers disabled their highly regulated equipment.

Police spokesman Vance Chandler told The Washington Post on Tuesday the procedure for muting and disabling cameras is part of the investigation, but new policies were being discussed before Clark was killed. He did not return immediate comment asking about the count later on Tuesday.

Sacramento Police Chief Daniel Hahn said last week at a city council meeting that at the time of the killing, the body-camera policy focused on deactivation and did not address all instances of muting. Police were instructed to mute during conversations about personnel or tactical information, Hahn said.

New policies created after Clark’s death say officers may mute cameras only in special circumstances, like protecting victims of sexual assault or when talking with a medic, Hahn said. If they think muting their camera is justified, officers now must verbally explain the circumstances out loud while the audio is still rolling, he said.

The videos released Monday also document the unfolding discussion about how and whether to approach Clark as he lay on the ground bleeding to death. And one of the new videos complicates the police portrayal of immediate urgency and danger on second glance.

Responding officers are shown keeping their pistol-mounted flashlights on Clark, urging him to show his hands at a distance. A female officer who arrives later says: “Let’s have the next unit bring a nonlethal in case he’s pretending,” appearing to refer to a shotgun loaded with less-lethal ammunition like bean bags.

The female officer returns to the car for the weapon, and as she collects it, her colleagues call over the radio to say they already have started to move in on Clark — without waiting for her to return with a weapon officers said they needed for safety. A call for medical responders goes out 14 seconds later.

That delay was appropriate, Plumas County deputy and police training expert Ed Obayashi said, because the officers might have been concerned Clark or someone else would raise a weapon, the Sacramento Bee reported.

Moments later, the female officer walks back amid calls for a “rescue mask,” referencing an oxygen mask. Clark was already found unresponsive in those moments, according to a separate video depicting a methodical, calm walk up to Clark’s body,  where a responder starts chest compressions on Clark.

She begins a jog and says to herself: “I don’t know if we have it,” in reference to the mask. The officer rummages in a trunk to find the mask and returns to the scene, struggling to put it together before she hands it off to another first responder.

A different officer says he is about to mute his body camera minutes later.

She apparently follows suit. Her entire feed, including video, ends there.

Stephon Clark was shot eight times, mostly in his back, autopsy requested by his family shows

Chandler said the decisions of how and when to apply aid will be investigated, declining to explain why officers did not have medical equipment ready to go as soon as Clark was handcuffed. He said he was unaware of any policy that standardizes where medical equipment is kept in squad cars. All officers carry a tourniquet and basic first-aid tools, he said.

An analysis by The Post found 987 people were killed by police last year — 68 of them unarmed. At least 327 people have been killed by police this year, according to The Post’s database on fatal force.

Clark’s family autopsy found he died within three to 10 minutes of the shooting. In a new video, cameras capture the moment he is declared dead. “We’re fixed and dilated here,” a first responder says, an apparent reference to Clark’s pupils showing no signs of life. “He’s gone … total flat,” a responder says.

Then someone makes the call to document his time of death and asks the time. The answer comes.


Allie Caren contributed to this report, which has been updated.

Read more:

Seven inmates dead, 17 injured after hours of rioting at South Carolina prison

He fought for same-sex marriage for years — and set himself on fire to protest global pollution.

Starbucks to close 8,000 stores for racial-bias education on May 29 after arrest of two black men