June 30, 2021
On February 21, 2017, officers with the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department (SLMPD) Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team, unlawfully stormed into the home of Don Clark, Sr. on a falsified “no knock” search warrant and killed the 63 year old Army veteran and grandfather who was suffering from vision and hearing loss, limited mobility, and a range of health issues. Today in federal court, Mr. Clark’s children filed a lawsuit against St. Louis City and twenty-one named SLMPD officers, alleging wrongful death and violations of the 4th and 14th Amendments.
ArchCity Defenders and Attorney Jerryl Christmas have filed a civil lawsuit on behalf of Sherrie Clark-Torrence and her four siblings, the surviving children of Don Clark, Sr., who was fatally shot in his home during an SLMPD SWAT raid that stemmed from a falsified “no knock” search warrant. The suit alleges that SLMPD detective Thomas Strode failed to conduct a sufficient investigation and used false and misleading information to obtain the “no knock” search warrant for Mr. Clark’s residence. The lawsuit brings federal and state claims, and seeks injunctive relief as well as monetary damages.
Click here to read the lawsuit.
Mr. Clark, called “Pops” by his neighbors, was visited by his son, Don Ray Clark, Jr., almost every day due to his declining health. The evening he was killed, Mr. Clark spoke on the phone with his son and told him he was looking forward to his visit the next day. That day never came, as police broke down the front door of Mr. Clark’s home without announcing themselves and, without warning, shot Mr. Clark after he was jarred awake in the front room. After being shot multiple times by SLMPD officer Nicholas Manasco with an assault rifle, police failed to call for help until “after crucial minutes had passed.” The complaint filed today states the “conduct of Defendant Manasco was unreasonable, unlawful, and unconstitutional, in that Defendant Manasco used more force than was reasonably necessary under the circumstances.”
Mr. Clark’s family hopes that this lawsuit will lead to change in the St. Louis community and beyond. “I want them to get rid of that ‘no-knock’ warrant thing. I feel it shouldn’t exist… and I feel by them doing that they would be saving a lot of people’s lives,” said Sherrie Clark-Torrence, Mr. Clark’s eldest daughter. “And, that they would take fault for what they did, not just to my Dad, but to everybody that they’ve done this to.”
“And to prevent it from happening to someone else,” said her brother, Don Ray Clark, Jr.
The family is also frustrated by the lack of transparency related to the police killing of their father. The night SLMPD SWAT killed Mr. Clark, police ignored the family’s requests for information about their father. It took a day to find out where his body was and to confirm that he was deceased.
“I went and tried to get closer to the police line just to get someone in authority to come let us know — ‘Hey, you know, y’all crime scene is my Dad’s house, we just want to know what’s going on’,” said Mr. Clark, Jr..
Click here to watch a video of Mr. Clark, Jr. and Ms. Torrence-Clark share how Fatal State Violence has affected their family.
That night, Mr. Clark’s residence was one of three homes on a South City block where “no knock” warrants would be executed following SLMPD detective Thomas Strode’s use of identical affidavits to apply for the warrants. Despite the fact that Mr. Clark had never been convicted of a crime, Detective Strode’s warrant application falsely claimed that the 63-year-old Mr. Clark “engaged in criminal activity.” Nor is this the first time that SLMPD detectives have misrepresented information on a “no knock” search warrant. The lawsuit cites examples of multiple SLMPD detectives who previously lied about the existence of confidential informants, lied about conducting surveillance, or otherwise applied for warrants without probable cause.
“This tragic case highlights the serious institutional failures of the City of St. Louis in addressing SLMPD’s excessive and indiscriminate use of SWAT and ‘no knock’ warrants,” said Emanuel Powell, Skadden Fellow and Staff Attorney with ArchCity Defenders.
“Ultimately, I think that Don Clark Sr.’s death was a preventable tragedy. Had the police done their due diligence, this would have never happened,” said Attorney Jerryl Christmas, co-counsel for the lawsuit.
According to data published by research collaborative Mapping Police Violence and cited in ArchCity’s January 2021 report, “Death by the State: Police Killings and Jail Deaths in St. Louis,” SLMPD has the highest rate of police killings by population of any police department of the 100 largest U.S. cities. Between 2009 and 2019, SLMPD reportedly killed at least 69 people, amassing 53% of total police killings in the region. In 2017, SLMPD SWAT killed two people on “no knock” search warrant raids– Don Clark, Sr. (63) and Isaiah Hammett (21). More information about Fatal State Violence, primary datasets, stories from impacted families, and ArchCity’s holistic legal approach to addressing the issue can be found online.
In 2020, the publicized police killings of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd catalyzed millions of people nationwide to protest racial injustice and to imagine safer communities with less police. Calls for defunding police departments and banning practices such as choke holds and “no knock warrants” have led to budget and policy changes. In June 2020, Louisville passed “Breonna’s Law,” banning the issuance of “no knock” warrants, and similar legislation has become law in Lexington, KY, Aurora, CO, and Virginia.
In St. Louis, a recently launched grassroots campaign “Defund. Re-envision. Transform.,” anchored by Action St. Louis, Citizens Against Police Crimes and Repression (CAPCR), Forward Through Ferguson, and ArchCity Defenders is demanding “the defunding of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department (SLMPD), re-envisioning public safety through reinvestment into community resources that actually keep our communities safe, and transformation of the St. Louis region.” Specifically, the campaign has called for the defunding of SWAT given the harm it has caused in the City of St. Louis. Already, “Defund. Re-envision. Transform.” has successfully organized public pressure, which led to the defunding of 98 vacant SLMPD positions for Fiscal Year 2022.
The Defund campaign stands with the Clark family and all those who have lost a loved one to a police killing or in-custody jail death. On June 30th, at 6:30PM, the Clark family along with the campaign are holding a press conference at the Deaconess Center for Child Wellbeing to remember Don Clark, Sr., seek justice, and demand change. For more information, click here.