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Coroner Says Stephon Clark's Family-Ordered Autopsy Was "Erroneous"

The Sacramento County coroner says fewer bullets hit Clark, and that they came in more from the side, not the back, as cited in the private exam.

Posted on May 1, 2018, at 8:49 p.m. ET

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Sacramento police on Tuesday released the official autopsy of Stephon Clark — the unarmed black man fatally shot by officers in his grandmother's backyard — that the coroner says differs from the "erroneous" private report commissioned by the family.

Clark's death sparked new protests over police shootings of unarmed black men across the US.

According to the Sacramento County coroner, police shot Clark seven times: once in the front of his thigh, three times in his side, and three times in his back. The private autopsy ordered by Clark's family determined that Clark was hit eight times — six times in his back and twice on his side.

Sacramento County Coroner Kimberly Gin also reported finding alcohol, cocaine, cannabinoids, Xanax, and codeine in Clark's blood, and hydrocodone in his urine.

Gin called the private exam "erroneous" in a letter to police that accompanied her autopsy report, which brought in four other experts, including three doctors — two from the coroner's office, one independent — and an outside pathologist, Gregory Reiber, who also reviewed the family's report.

People attend a vigil for Stephon Clark on April 4 in New York City.
Spencer Platt / Getty Images

People attend a vigil for Stephon Clark on April 4 in New York City.

Reiber wrote that the doctor retained by the family, Bennet Omalu, mistook an exit wound on the left side of Clark's chest for an entry.

Reiber contested a number of Omalu's other findings in a report, including which gunshots were lethal and where exactly Clark was shot. The pathologist wrote that a wound in Clark's thigh was likely the first to be sustained, and came from the front. The others, Reiber added, "were primarily to Clark's right side, some being directly to the side, and others being to the right side of the back."

The positioning of the officers and where they shot Clark became an important point in the furor over his death. Omalu said that officers shot Clark in the back six times, which many took to indicate that he was fleeing rather than confronting the officers, as they had said he was.

Tonight’s protest is largely focused on the results of Clark’s independent autopsy released this morning. Organizers are distributing pamphlets that describe the findings and end with “EVERYTHING SAC PD SAID WAS A LIE!!!!” https://t.co/gLkWYM4thX

"The predominant right-to-left angle of wounds 1, 3, 4, 5, and 6, along with the slight front-to-back angle of wound 1, do not support the assertion that Clark was shot primarily from behind as asserted by Omalu in his press conference statements," Reiber wrote.

Reiber added that helicopter footage of the confrontation provided "clear refutation" of Omalu's statements describing the position of Clark and the officers.

The two officers who opened fire told investigators they were responding to a call from a neighbor reporting a man breaking car windows and hiding in a backyard. According to police, Clark then turned back around to face the officers and extended something they thought was a gun toward them. They then opened fire.

Cops, however, only found a cell phone at the scene — no weapon or toolbar as had been suspected. A cinder block and piece of foil were also found outside a neighbor's shattered glass door, police said.

The coroner's office declined to comment on the autopsy findings, citing the ongoing investigation. The Clark family attorney, Benjamin Crump, and the head of Black Lives Matter Sacramento, Tanya Faison, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

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