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Stephon Clark Shooting: 'Officers Followed Their Training,' Police Association Says

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

California's attorney general says it took his office nearly a year to write the story of the final minutes of Stephon Clark's life. And that story, as assembled by prosecutors, means no criminal charges for the police officers who killed the black man who had no weapon, just a cellphone. Here's Attorney General Xavier Becerra.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

XAVIER BECERRA: I know that this is not how SeQuette Clark and Stephon Clark's loved ones wanted his story to end. I know this is not how our community wants any of these stories to end.

INSKEEP: The state attorney general made the same decision as the local district attorney. The evidence showed the officers had a reasonable fear that Clark may have had a gun, even though in reality, he did not. Federal authorities will still conduct their own civil rights review, and state lawmakers are now discussing two different proposals to change the laws under which the officers were not charged. We've heard on this program and elsewhere from Stephon Clark's family, and today we hear from Tim Davis, who is president of the Sacramento Police Officers Association - that's the equivalent of the police union - and he's on the line from California.

Good morning, sir.

TIM DAVIS: Good morning.

INSKEEP: Have prosecutors made the right decision here?

DAVIS: Yes. Absolutely. The officers on this call, they were responding to very dynamic and ongoing events. They had to make a split-second decision. They perceived that Stephon Clark had a firearm. They thought that they were being fired on, and they returned fire to save their life and to protect the community. And that's the decision that the district attorney made after looking over tons of evidence, including videos and reports. And the attorney general for the state also made that same determination.

INSKEEP: Now, we should be fair. The attorney general did say, I'm not just taking the officer's word for it, there is some evidence, as you mentioned. And he reviewed that evidence and took it into consideration. But there's still the brutal fact that their split-second decision was wrong.

DAVIS: Well, the officers have to make these dangerous and split-second decisions all the time. Policing is very dangerous. These officers, they sign up to serve their communities. They're out there protecting. They were in that neighborhood because citizens called us there. They wanted officers in that neighborhood to protect them, to prevent these crimes that were going on that were being committed by Stephon Clark. And they responded to that call from their citizens to be in that community.

INSKEEP: Would you accept the argument that the officers, even if they did not violate the law as currently written, may have made a mistake here, did something wrong, should be - that should be addressed in some way?

DAVIS: Well, the officers followed their training. And, you know, this is not the outcome that we want. Officers never want to have to use deadly force. Officers are out there to protect their community. They want to keep them safe. But they reacted to what they perceived, to what they saw. And they were reacting to Stephon Clark's actions and the response to Stephon Clark fleeing the officers then closing on them, taking a shooting stance. Those are the actions that they responded to. And unfortunately, his life was lost in that transaction. But the officers were responding to his actions, and they were responding to their training and they were acting within the law.

INSKEEP: Now, you say acting within the law. Let's talk about that because there is a discussion of changing the law in California. And this is worth talking about on this program because it's something that people can relate to any number of police shootings across the country. California law says that an officer or someone else would not be held responsible for a shooting like this if they had a reasonable fear that their own lives were in danger. That's the standard by which you can use force.

There is a proposal to change the law to say that people can be punished unless the use of force proved to be necessary. Different standard. What do you think of that?

DAVIS: Well, I think there's actually a misconception on what's being attempted here. Our law is actually based on the U.S. Supreme Court decision. And that case law says that officers can only use force when necessary. But that's based on the perspective of the officer on the scene - knowing what the officer knew and knowing what the officer perceived. What this change in legislation that's proposing that officers be able to be judged with the hindsight of reviewing everything that happened, and if somebody after the fact could determine that there was any other course of action that the officer could have taken then they could then be charged with murder and sent to prison for the rest of their life.

These officers have to make these split-second decisions. And, you know, they're doing it with the best intent. And as long as it's determined that they were acting reasonably and using that force that they deemed necessary at the time based on what they knew then they're acting within the law.

INSKEEP: Is there a case to be made that the law could be changed to push police officers, frankly, to take a little more risk, to lean a little bit more on their own training and wait a few extra seconds to see if an apparently dangerous situation really is dangerous?

DAVIS: Well, I think our officers do a great job of de-escalating situations and resolving. Our officers in Sacramento respond to hundreds of thousands of calls a year. Rarely do they use force. And very, very rarely is that force deadly force. So our officers do that. They already go into these situations not wanting to use force. And they only use that force when it's absolutely needed. But sometimes, they have to make these split-second decisions, and sometimes they end up like this.

There's another piece of legislation in California that's pending, and it's one that's advocated by law enforcement and a lot of the community. And that bill would give officers more training. It would require every agency in the state to update their policies, to address a lot more situations like when to use force in different types of situations. And I think it's through training and policy that we can have better outcomes in events like this in the future. Threatening officers which charging them with murder and sending them to prison doesn't give them better tools, better training or better resources.

INSKEEP: One other thing. We had a leader of Black Lives Matter on the program the other day who said this investigation was unfair. The prosecutor released the phone records and the drug tests relating to Stephon Clark but didn't release the same information regarding the police officers. In a shooting like this - in just a few seconds - should we learn more in the public about the state of mind of the officers and the backgrounds of the officers?

DAVIS: Well, the officers in this case were subject to a lengthy investigation, and the attorney general and the district attorney and the police department and the Office of Public Safety Accountability, they all reviewed the officers' background, all of the information. But all of that is fair game in the investigation, including all the actions that Stephon Clark took leading up to the investigation.

INSKEEP: Well, Tim Davis, we'll have to end the discussion there, but thanks for talking with us. Really appreciate it.

DAVIS: Thank you.

INSKEEP: He's with the Sacramento Police Officers Association, and you heard him on MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.