The Sacramento County coroner said the independent autopsy by a doctor hired by Stephon Clark’s family was “erroneous” after releasing the official report showing the 22-year-old was shot seven times – not eight – by Sacramento police.
A pathologist retained by the country coroner’s office said the doctor hired by Clark’s family mistook an exit wound for an eighth entry wound, creating an impression that police first shot from the side or back.
Clark, who was unarmed when police fatally shot him in his grandmother’s backyard on March 18, was mostly likely shot as he approached police, a conclusion that is consistent with the officers’ story of the encounter, Dr. Gregory Reiber wrote.
“This is a significant error, as it leads to incorrect conclusions regarding the relative positions of the victim and shooters during the event,” he wrote, adding that three of the shots – not six – were into his back.
Reiber is a Roseville pathologist who reviewed the county’s autopsy report at coroner Kimberly Gin’s request. He did not study the body, but relied on the county report along with diagrams, photos, body camera videos and other evidence.
The official county 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 findings, released Tuesday about six weeks after Clark’s death, are starkly different from those presented March 30 by the pathologist hired by the family, Dr. Bennet Omalu, who defended his work.
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.
He rejected the findings from the county’s autopsy and said he found it strange that the coroner’s office brought in its own independent pathologist to review the official autopsy.
“I find it extremely unusual that an outside doctor is reviewing an autopsy report and is coming out to state [I] am wrong,” he told the Sacramento Bee. “A doctor cannot say another doctor is wrong. All you can say is, I don’t agree with the opinion of that doctor.”
He continued: “This is why the family saw the need to hire their own independent expert, because they don’t trust the pathologists or the county because of things like this. What they forget is, we have pictures and pictures speak for themselves.
The county’s autopsy also said Clark was legally drunk and had traces of marijuana, cocaine and codeine in his system when he was shot, but the report said the toxicology findings are not directly relevant to the fatal shooting.
Reiber wrote that a frame-by-frame analysis of video from both officers' body 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.
The direction of the bullets "do not support the assertion that Clark was shot primarily from behind as asserted by Omalu," Reiber wrote.
Sacramento police 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.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.