The Slatest

Controversial Concussion Doctor Says His Autopsy of Stephon Clark Contradicts Police Account of Shooting

Bennet Omalu speaking at an event in New York City on Nov. 5, 2015.
Bennet Omalu in New York City on Nov. 5, 2015.
Bryan Bedder/Getty Images for WebMD

An independent autopsy contradicts the official Sacramento police account of Stephon Clark’s death, the doctor who conducted it and the Clark family’s attorney say. The autopsy was conducted by Bennet Omalu, a pathologist who is well-known for being the first doctor to identify chronic traumatic encephalopathy in the brains of football players. Clark, 22, was shot and killed on March 18 by officers who said they believed he was holding a gun; the only item found near or on his body was a cellphone.

Omalu, who has also made headlines for his sensational (and speculative) claims about the health of such figures as Hillary Clinton* and O.J. Simpson, recently resigned from his job as the chief medical examiner of nearby San Joaquin County over what he described as repeated attempts by the county sheriff to influence his findings in police-involved cases. His autopsy found four entry wounds in Clark’s lower back, one in the side of his neck, one in the back of his neck, one under an armpit “entering from the side,” and one on the outside of a leg. Officers fired 20 shots at Clark in total.

Police helicopter and body camera footage shows that the two officers who shot and killed Clark encountered him outside his grandmother’s house, where he lived, on the night of March 18 after responding to reports of car break-ins in the area. Officers in a helicopter spotted Clark in a neighbor’s backyard; video footage shows him running and jumping over a fence from that yard onto his grandmother’s property, where he is standing in a driveway on the side of the house when the officers on the ground see him and he moves to the backyard with the officers pursuing. Here’s the police department’s account of what happened next:

Prior to the shooting, the involved officers saw the suspect facing them, advance forward with his arms extended, and holding an object in his hands.  At the time of the shooting, the officers believed the suspect was pointing a firearm at them. 

Here’s the helicopter video of the shooting:

The video does appear to show Clark moving toward officers, though he’s only visible for a moment before the shooting starts, and it’s not clear that he is holding out an object. Omalu, per local public radio station KQED’s summary of his Friday press conference, disputes the police account in its entirety:

Omalu said he believes that shows that Clark was moving away from police when they fired. … Omalu dismissed the theory that Clark had faced or advanced toward the police with his phone outstretched in his hand.

“The prevailing evidentiary autopsy findings are inconsistent with such a proposition,” he said.

The results of an earlier autopsy performed by the Sacramento County coroner have yet to be released.

Correction, 8:10 p.m.: This post initially misstated that Omalu had commented on the condition of Clinton’s brain. He in fact suggested that there may have been evidence of poisoning in her blood.