View the Full Story

April 3, 2018 NICK CAHILL 

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) – Backed by the family of an unarmed black man killed by Sacramento police last month, California lawmakers and civil rights groups on Tuesday called for sweeping reforms to the state's "reasonable force" rule.

Under the proposal by state Democrats, officers would only be able to use deadly force after considering all other nonlethal alternatives. If an officer doesn't follow the proposed guidelines or use nonlethal techniques before shooting, they could be fired or even face criminal charges.

Proponents say setting tougher standards puts an emphasis on de-escalation and prevents needless police killings.

Assemblyman Chris Holden, D-Pasadena and member of the California Legislative Black Caucus, said changes are needed because black people feel a "target is on their back by police and the justice system."

"We should no longer be the target practice or victims of a shoot first, ask questions later police force," Holden said at a press conference.

The proposal comes weeks after the fatal police shooting of Stephon Clark in a Sacramento neighborhood.

Sacramento Police officers responding to calls of car vandalism approached Clark in his grandmother's backyard and shot him eight times. As shown in recently released body camera footage, the two officers believed Clark had a gun and fired 20 times in the dark at the 22-year-old.

The following day, investigators confirmed Clark wasn't armed and was in fact holding his cellphone when he was shot and killed. An independent autopsy report found Clark was struck several times in the back, sparking days of protests and marches throughout California's capital city.

Assemblyman Kevin McCarty of Sacramento said the bill will modernize outdated use-of-force laws and introduce new training for state and local law enforcement agencies.

"It's time for justice for victims and families like the Clark family here, and like the Clark families all across California and our nation," McCarty said of raising the standard for officers' use of deadly force.

Supporters of the sweeping reform bill say current law has "given legal cover" to officers and prevented them from being held accountable or charged in past fatal shootings. The American Civil Liberties Union called the measure groundbreaking.

"It's clear that the current law protects the police, not the people," said Lizzie Buchen, ACLU legislative advocate. "It allows officers to kill community members when they had other options or when they're the ones who created the danger."

Dubbed the "Police Accountability and Community Protection Act," the proposal is not yet in print.

According to the ACLU, the bill will "authorize police to use deadly force only when necessary to prevent imminent and serious bodily injury or death – that is, if, given the totality of the circumstances, there was no reasonable alternative to using deadly force, including warnings, verbal persuasion or other nonlethal methods of resolution or de-escalation."

The bill would also "establish that a homicide by a peace officer is not justified if the officer's gross negligence contributed to making the force 'necessary.'"

California State Sheriffs' Association executive director Carmen Green said she hasn't seen the bill's language or had a chance to review it. The California Police Chiefs Association also declined to comment.

The ACLU is also sponsoring another law enforcement reform bill introduced following Clark's death.

Senate Bill 1421 by state Sen. Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, would increase public access to police personnel records and officer-involved shootings.

"The public has a right to know all about serious police misconduct, as well as about officer-involved shootings and other serious uses of force," the bill states. "Concealing crucial public safety matters such as officer violations of civilians' rights, or inquiries into deadly use of force incidents, undercuts the public's faith in the legitimacy of law enforcement, makes it harder for tens of thousands of hardworking peace officers to do their jobs and endangers public safety."

Numerous legislative attempts to improve transparency over California law enforcement personnel records and body camera footage have stalled over the last several years.