CLARK FAMILY/GOOGLE STREET VIEW
Don Clark Sr., shown in an undated family photo, was killed in 2017 when a SWAT team burst into his home and shot him.
The family of a man killed in 2017 when St. Louis police serving a "no knock" search warrant on his house shot him say a detective lied in court documents to make the disabled 63-year-old look like a violent drug dealer.
In a lawsuit filed on Wednesday, Don Ray Clark Sr.'s four children — three adults and one young daughter — contend that their father was unarmed and in bed for the night when a police SWAT team busted through the door of his Dutchtown home without warning and opened fire. They're suing the city, the detective who applied for the search warrant and another twenty officers involved in the deadly raid.
"Mr. Clark, an elderly and disabled veteran, died a violent and horrific death" as a result of bad police work and a culture of using excessive force, the family alleges in the suit filed on behalf of the family by nonprofit law firm ArchCity Defenders and attorney Jerryl Christmas.
His family said Clark suffered from a variety of health problems, including bad eyesight, limited hearing and diabetes. He walked with a cane and spent most of his time at home, sometimes screwing his door closed at night because he feared crime in the neighborhood, the suit says. His son, Don Clark Jr., stopped by daily and a home health-care worker visited regularly to care for him, according to the suit.
On February 21, 2017, the day of the raid, Clark Jr. said he had to work so his father took a bus to a doctor's visit, a strenuous effort in his condition, which would have left him exhausted.
"When he made it back home later that day after the doctor’s visit, Mr. Clark told Don, Jr. by phone that he was looking forward to going to sleep after an eventful day," the suit says.
That night, police SWAT teams raided three houses on the same block of California Avenue. The street is about three blocks to the southeast of South City Hospital, and St. Louis police Detective Thomas Strode claimed in matching search warrant applications that a six-month investigation showed evidence of guns and drug dealing at 4029, 4025 and 4023 California Avenue. The three houses, all single-story one-bedroom houses of about 750 square feet, were built at the same time in the same style.
According to the suit, officers divided into two "stacks," hitting 4029 and 4025 first. They then regrouped and raided 4023 — Clark's home. Then-police-Chief Sam Dotson would later tell reporters that officers announced themselves and someone inside fired at them before they returned fire. But Clark's family's lawsuit says that's not true. Clark was given no warning and probably wouldn't have been able to see or hear clearly enough to know what was happening when officers rammed the front door open, flung a flash bang inside and burst into the home, the suit says.
One officer, Nicholas Manasco, fired on Clark, hitting him at least nine times, according to the suit. Clark, who slept in the living room so his eight-year-old daughter could have the lone bedroom, rolled onto the floor and lay there, still alive for "crucial minutes" before another officer arrived and finally called for an ambulance, the suit says.
Dotson said police recovered weapons and drugs during their searches, including a gun supposedly used by Clark to fire on officers, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported in 2017
The family disputes nearly all of what Dotson and police have said about what led up to the raid and what was found in Clark's home. Despite Strode's claims that a long-running investigation, supported by accounts from a confidential informant, showed evidence of guns and drug dealing, Clark's son and the home health-care worker who visited his father every week insisted they never saw drugs or any sign of the series of quick-stop visitors supposedly streaming in and out of the house to buy heroin and marijuana.
The suit says that if police did find any drugs or guns while executing their search warrants that night, they didn't come from Clark's home. The family contends that Strode first searched the other two houses and then carried a box from either 4029 or 4025 California into Clark's house.
The city and the police department declined to comment on the allegations in the suit, citing the pending litigation.
Strode, according to the suit, regularly filed applications for "no knock" search warrants, and the police department and courts provided little scrutiny. Even if police wanted to search Clark's house, his family says there was no reason to send a SWAT team.
Clark had served in the Army and, for a time, ran a security company. In recent years, his health was bad and he was in bed by 8 p.m. most nights, his family says. Police previously listed several arrests in his past as part of their justification for the no-knock tactics, but his record doesn't show any convictions and attorneys for the family say he didn't have a criminal record.
“Ultimately, I think that Don Clark Sr.’s death was a preventable tragedy," Christmas said in a news release. "Had the police done their due diligence, this would have never happened.”
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