‘No more Stephon Clarks:’ Lawmakers revive bill to prosecute officers who use deadly force

Flanked by Californians whose loved ones have been killed by police, a San Diego lawmaker on Wednesday announced that she’d revive a bill that would make it easier to file criminal charges against officers who use deadly force not deemed “necessary.”

Democrat Shirley Weber says the California Act to Save Lives has one important difference from a similar bill she submitted last year. This time, it more clearly allows officers to invoke the self-defense law without penalty when there is imminent danger and when deescalation strategies like verbal warnings and persuasion tactics do not work.

In 2017, 172 people were shot and killed by police in California, according to the state Department of Justice. Sacramento is still reeling from the death of Stephon Clark an unarmed black man who was shot multiple times and killed by police officers in the city last March in his grandparents’ backyard.

“This is a measure that will assure and help end and make sure that there are no more Stephon Clarks, Trayvon [Martins], Michael Browns, Eric Garners, Freddie Grays, Antwon Rose as well,” state Sen. Steven Bradford, D-Gardena, said.

Kevin McCarty, D-Sacramento, said that the proposed legislation would improve public safety and save taxpayers money. He cited Clark’s death in making a case for the bill, arguing that taxpayers could wind up on the hook for the wrongful death lawsuit Clark’s family filed against the city seeking $20 million.

The lawmakers were joined by Cephus Johnson, whose nephew Oscar Grant was killed by a BART officer on New Year’s Day 10 years ago.

Wearing a sweater reading “California Families United 4 Justice,” Johnson said that “Oscar would probably be living today” if California had better use-of-force laws.

“There’s no horror comparable to the use of force by police that takes your loved one’s life,” Cephus Johnson said. “The pain is forever something you remember, perhaps because it could have been prevented.”

Grant’s shooter, Johannes Mehserle, was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter during trial and served 11 months of a two-year sentence.

Police unions and police departments opposed Weber’s bill last year, arguing it would have threatened officers’ lives.

“Police officers are in situations that are often dangerous and tenuous and are tasked with preserving lives and protecting our communities,” incoming California Police Chiefs Association President Ron Lawrence said. “Demonizing them is not good for our California society.”

He favors other approaches to reduce office-involved shootings, such as deescalation training, rendering First-Aid and interacting with vulnerable populations.

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Hannah Wiley joined The Bee as a legislative reporter in 2019. She produces the morning newsletter for Capitol Alert and previously reported on immigration, education and criminal justice. She’s a Chicago-area native and a graduate of Saint Louis University and Northwestern.