Video: The shooting of Stephan Clark

A rare case where the body-cam footage doesn’t tell the story as well as other video does. Clark’s fatal shooting by Sacramento P.D. is a national story because the most basic facts are horrendous: Not only was he unarmed, he was standing in his grandmother’s backyard holding his cell-phone when the cops, mistaking it for a weapon, gunned him down. “He was at the wrong place at the wrong time in his own backyard?” said his grandmother afterward, incredulously. “C’mon now, they didn’t have to do that.” Watch this snippet of the body-cam footage, which picks up with the police in hot pursuit. They never identify themselves as cops, although the shouts of “Show me your hands” are a clue.

You can write a terrible narrative to explain that scene. What if the cops mistook Clark for a suspect they were looking for, he panicked and made a break for home, and they cornered him and fired after seeing something in his hand?

But that’s apparently not what happened. There was an attempted break-in nearby minutes before the confrontation with Clark:

Deputies in the helicopter reported seeing a man armed with a “tool bar” in a nearby backyard and began to direct ground officers to that location.

The airborne deputies said they saw the man use the “tool bar” to break a window, which police later said was the rear sliding glass door in an occupied home on the 7500 block of 29th Street.

Police Tuesday said a cinder block and a piece of aluminum similar to what would be used in a rain gutter were recovered from near the broken door and taken into evidence, though neither item was definitely identified as the “tool bar” seen by deputies in the helicopter.

Watch the thermal imagery of the incident recorded by a police helicopter overhead, which picks up right after the chopper unit claims that they saw a man break someone’s window. The suspect takes off and hops a fence, then lingers near a car by the front door. Deputies suddenly appear, so he bolts for the backyard. The helicopter camera’s view of him is briefly obscured by the roof of the house as it circles, then as it comes back around it captures the fatal shooting of Clark. It sure looks like Clark and the break-in suspect who hopped the fence onto his grandmother’s property are one and the same man. And Clark, for what it’s worth, had been accused of robbery before, having been charged with the crime in 2008. (He’d also been charged with possessing a firearm in 2013 although officers on the ground almost certainly didn’t know that, or even who they were pursuing.)

It should go without saying that none of that means he “deserved” to be shot. In a better world, no unarmed person would take a bullet from police. Clark’s seemingly odd decision to go to the backyard was understandable too in context: According to his grandma, the doorbell was broken and family would frequently tap on the back window to be let in. He may have had his iPhone out because he was calling his grandmother to wake her up and open the door. But the cops didn’t know whose house it was. They may have assumed that Clark had been cornered in a stranger’s yard and, fearing apprehension, had panicked and decided to shoot his way out. It wasn’t absurd under the circumstances to think he might have had a gun since, apparently, he’d been caught in the act of breaking a window moments before. The outcome was horrible but there’s more to it than the “Unarmed Man Shot In Own Backyard” headlines.

Exit question: Are we going to have to take the chopper unit’s word for it that Clark broke the neighbor’s window? Where’s that thermal footage?