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Investigations underway after sheriff’s vehicle hits Stephon Clark protester

(PhatzNewsRoom / LA Times)    —   A female demonstrator attending a candlelight vigil for Stephon Clark in south Sacramento on Saturday night was struck by a sheriff’s vehicle as protesters began marching in the streets.

The injured woman, local activist Wanda Cleveland, was released from a hospital early Sunday morning with bruises to her arm and back of her head, according to the Sacramento Bee.

Early Sunday, the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department released a statement saying “the collision occurred while the patrol vehicle was traveling at slow speeds,” adding that the woman suffered minor injuries.

The statement from sheriff’s spokesman Sgt. Shaun Hampton also said the vehicle “sustained scratches, dents, and a shattered rear window” caused by vandals in the crowd.

Cleveland, who regularly attends Sacramento City Council meetings, told the Sacramento Bee that the patrol vehicle was accelerating and “never even stopped” before hitting her knee and knocking her to the ground.

“It was a hit and run. If I did that I’d be charged,” Cleveland told the paper. “It’s disregard for human life.”

The California Highway Patrol is now investigating the incident, and the Sheriff’s Department has launched an internal review, Hampton said.

The incident capped a week of protest marches and demonstrations over the police shooting of Clark that has drawn national media attention. Clark was fatally shot by two Sacramento police officers in his grandmother’s backyard on March 18 as they pursued a vandal in his neighborhood.

Clark, 22, was shot eight times, including six times in the back, an independent autopsy concluded. He was found with only a cellphone. No weapon was recovered.

Demonstrators gathered at the corner of 65th Street and Florin Road, near the service center for the Sheriff’s Department, for the candlelight vigil honoring Clark and other victims of police shootings, the Sacramento Bee reported.

At the corner, demonstrators chanted “the whole damn system is guilty as hell” as motorists honked their horns in support. Organizers told the Bee that the vigil was held to hold the sheriff’s department accountable for its role in Clark’s shooting. A department helicopter assisted officers on the night Clark was killed.

The March 18 shooting began when Sacramento police officers responded to reports of a man breaking car windows. The officers thought Clark was armed with a gun, police said.

After an earlier rally held in downtown Sacramento on Saturday, demonstrators began to march on neighborhood streets around the sheriff’s center and were heading east on Florin Road, blocking traffic and chanting, when the sheriff’s vehicle struck the female demonstrator.

The incident was captured on video by Guy Danilowitz of the National Lawyers Guild, according to the Sacramento Bee.

The video shows the sheriff’s SUV slowly moving as protesters walk in front and around the vehicle. The officer in the vehicle tells protesters to stand away from the cars on the street. At one point, the sheriff’s vehicle speeds up, hitting the female demonstrator walking in front of the SUV.

Late Saturday night, protesters were still marching on Sacramento streets as police in riot gear ordered the crowd to disperse.

The findings of the independent autopsy, commissioned by Clark’s family, raises new questions about Clark’s shooting, which is now the subject of investigations by both local and state officials. The county coroner’s official autopsy results are not expected for several weeks.

Clark was shot in his grandmother’s backyard as police were searching for a vandal in the neighborhood who was breaking car windows. More than 20 shots were fired.

Police released videos of the shooting but have urged the public not to pass judgment on officers until the investigation is complete.

Among the unanswered questions that have fueled anger in the wake of Clark’s shooting is why officers muted their body cameras after firing on the unarmed black man.

After the shooting, a police sergeant arrived on the scene and appeared to take charge. He asked the two officers how many shots were fired and in what direction. He brought the officers to the street and is heard saying, “Hey, mute” as he reached for his body camera.

The audio of both of the officers standing with him went silent.

On Wednesday, a police spokesman said Clark remained the sole suspect in break-ins of vehicles and what a sheriff’s deputy said was the attempted break-in of a home.

A Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department helicopter spotted a man in a backyard and directed police toward him, authorities said. Deputies told officers that the man had picked up a “toolbar” and broken the window of a home.

The man was seen running south, toward the front of the house, where he stopped and looked into a car, police said. Police body camera footage shows that officers intercepted Clark in the backyard of his grandmother’s house, and one of them yelled, “Gun!” as he turned a corner and saw Clark. The officer ducked back momentarily, then looked around the corner again and, shouting “Gun! Gun! Gun!” began firing rapidly. His partner then joined in the shooting.

The officers told other police who arrived on the scene they thought Clark was pointing something at them. “It looked like a gun from our perspective,” one said.

Clark was pronounced dead at the scene.

Police video shows that several minutes passed until officers approached Clark’s body. They then handcuffed him before appearing to attempt resuscitation.

Several protests followed the shooting. On March 22, Black Lives Matter led a march that forced the closure of Interstate 5 and prevented NBA fans from entering a Sacramento Kings game at Golden 1 Center arena.

___

ruben.vives@latimes.com

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