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Family of slain Calif. man calls for police changes

As Sequita Thompson (above) discussed the shooting of her grandson, Stephon Clark, Clark’s brother, Ste’vonte Clark, wiped a tear from her cheek during a news conference.
As Sequita Thompson (above) discussed the shooting of her grandson, Stephon Clark, Clark’s brother, Ste’vonte Clark, wiped a tear from her cheek during a news conference. (Rich Pedroncelli/ASSOCIATED PRESS)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — The grandmother of an unarmed black man killed by Sacramento police called Monday for changes in the way police confront suspects, such as sending in a police dog, using a Taser, or aiming for an arm or leg when shots are fired.

Sequita Thompson said at an emotional news conference that police didn’t need to shoot at 22-year-old Stephon Clark 20 times, killing him in her darkened backyard March 18.

‘‘They didn’t have to kill him like that, they didn’t have to shoot him that many times,’’ she said through sobs, recounting the night of his slaying. She believes Clark was in the backyard trying to get into the house he shared with his grandparents and other family members when he was shot.

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He was the latest prominent face of young black men killed by police nationwide, said the family’s lawyer, Benjamin Crump.

Crump called the shooting an ‘‘execution’’ of a man who was found with only a cellphone and not the handgun police thought he had.

Members of the Sacramento Kings and Boston Celtics NBA teams took up his cause Sunday, wearing Clark’s name on black warm-up T-shirts three days after protesters formed a human chain blocking entrances to the Kings’ Golden1 Center and prevented all but about 1,500 fans from entering.

Police said they were pursuing a suspect who had broken at least three car windows and a neighbor’s glass door. They say the suspect fled from two officers and ignored commands to stop and show his hands. Video and audio recordings released by the department show the officers appear to genuinely believe Clark had a gun, and independent experts said they are unlikely to face criminal charges.

Leaders of the NAACP called for an independent investigation but said the two officers should be criminally charged.

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They want the Sacramento police department to change its foot pursuit policy to allow for options like waiting for backup, sending in a police dog, backing off and maintaining surveillance or using less-than-lethal force like Tasers during confrontations.

Department officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

State NAACP President Alice Huffman said the organization has asked the US Justice Department’s civil rights division to investigate the killing. The group also wants California to create an inspector general to investigate police-involved shootings.

Crump said the family planned Monday to view Clark’s body in preparation for an independent autopsy. A wake is planned for Wednesday night and his funeral is Thursday, said NAACP Sacramento Branch President Betty Williams.

Clark’s brother, Stevante Clark, in brief remarks with his voice cracking thanked former Kings player DeMarcus Cousins for helping to cover the funeral expenses and for the national and international outpouring of support for his family.