SACRAMENTO, Calif – An official autopsy released Tuesday says an unarmed black man was shot seven times, not eight as concluded by an independent doctor hired by the man’s family.
A pathologist retained by the Sacramento County coroner says that’s a crucial distinction because it shows the pathologist hired by the family of 22-year-old Stephon Clark mistook an exit wound for an eighth entry wound, creating an impression that police first shot Clark from the side or back.
Clark was most likely shot as he approached police, a conclusion that is consistent with the officers’ story of the fatal encounter, Dr. Gregory Reiber wrote after reviewing the official autopsy along with video taken by the two officers’ body-worn cameras and a sheriff’s helicopter circling overhead.
The autopsy also says Clark was legally drunk and had traces of marijuana, cocaine and codeine in his system when was shot, but the report said the toxicology findings are not directly relevant to the fatal shooting.
The officers shot Clark after chasing him into his grandparents’ backyard. They were responding to a report of someone breaking car windows, and said they shot Clark because they thought he was approaching them while pointing a handgun.
Investigators found only a cellphone.
The slaying set off weeks of protests as demonstrators called for the officers to be fired and criminally charged. Protesters at times blocked fans from attending professional basketball games and disrupted rush hour traffic downtown in the state capital and on a nearby interstate.
Benjamin Crump, a spokesman for the family’s attorney, did not immediately comment.
The pathologist hired by the family, Dr. Bennet Omalu, told The Sacramento Bee he found it strange that the coroner’s office brought in its own independent pathologist to review the official autopsy.
Omalu found that Clark was hit by six bullets in the back, one in the neck and one in the thigh, and took three to 10 minutes to die. Police waited about five minutes before rendering medical aid.
The official autopsy found that Clark was hit three times in his right back; in the right front of his neck; his right arm; in his right chest, slightly back to front; and in the left thigh.
Two bullets perforated his lungs, with one of those two bullets hitting his heart and aorta, and another bullet striking his spine.
The direction of the bullets “do not support the assertion that Clark was shot primarily from behind as asserted by Omalu,” Reiber wrote.
He wrote that a frame-by-frame analysis of video from both officers’ body-worn cameras shows Clark facing the officers while helicopter footage shows him “walking … toward the officers’ position.” He was most likely shot first in the thigh, then in the right side and back as he fell first to his knees and then face down with his right side facing the officers, Reiber wrote.