Don Clark, a 63-year-old veteran, was shot and killed in his St. Louis home on Feb. 21, 2017 by members of the city’s SWAT team. His family filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against the police department and city on June 30, 2021. (Photo submitted)
Don Clark, a 63-year-old veteran from St. Louis, walked with a cane because his diabetes caused him to have swollen limbs, poor hearing and fading eyesight.
On Feb. 21, 2017, he was exhausted from traveling by bus to his doctor’s appointment, Clark told his son on the phone that day.
After he fell asleep that night, a SWAT team of more than 17 police officers raided two of his neighbors’ homes in search of drugs and guns in South St. Louis.
The Metropolitan St. Louis Police Department (SLMPD) had actually scheduled three “no knock” warrants — or warrants that allow officers to enter a property without requiring that they announce their presence — on Clark’s street.
The third one was Clark’s home.
All 17 fully-armed officers formed one long “stack,” rammed Clark’s door in without announcing themselves, and shot and killed him near his bed, according to a lawsuit filed against the police department and city by Clark’s family last week.
The lawsuit claims that an officer falsified information to gain the search warrant for Clark’s home, and the behavior is a pattern within the police department. It also alleges that the officer who killed Clark used excessive force.
Last fall, Missouri legislators heard stories from people around the state where no-knock warrants were deadly or traumatizing during a committee hearing. However, representatives from Missouri Sheriff’s Association and the Missouri State Troopers Association testified that no-knock raids are so “rare” they don’t need to be regulated.
Missouri Democrats attempted to ban “no knock” search warrants statewide this past legislative session, but the proposed bills didn’t gain any traction.
Sen. Brian Williams, D-University City, included a ban in the first draft of his crime bill, but the measure was removed from the bill early on.
A national call for bans on “no knock” warrants began after Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old Black woman and emergency room technician, was shot to death on March 13, 2020, after plainclothes officers raided her apartment in Louisville, Ky.
Sherrie Clark-Torrence, Clark’s daughter, said the family hopes the lawsuit will lead to policy changes in the city and state, including a ban on “no knock” warrants.
“If these warrants are causing this much pain to people’s families, then it shouldn’t be in existence,” Clark-Torrence said.
The police department does not comment on pending litigation, a police department spokeswoman said.
Clark’s son would visit him almost daily and stay for at least an hour to provide care for his father, including doing chores like taking out the trash, the lawsuit states.
His only other visitor outside of his children and grandchildren was a home healthcare provider. They never saw narcotics in his home, which the police claim they found, nor did they see people come into his home for short periods of time, the suit states.
Clark moved to California Street so he could give his youngest daughter, 8, her own room, which was the only bedroom in the house. He set up his own bed in the front room, across from the front door. His daughter was not at home the night of the raid.
The lawsuit alleges that without warning, Officer Nicholas Manasco rushed into the home and shot a barrage of bullets from an assault rifle. At least nine bullets entered Clark’s body.
Manasco and Officer James Zwilling stood over Clark with guns pointed but never sought medical help for Clark, the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit alleges that Det. Thomas Strode used identical affidavits to apply for the all three warrants that night, despite the fact that Clark had never been convicted of a crime. The affidavits all sourced “confidential informants,” who claimed to have observed the three homes in possession of firearms and or narcotics within the prior 24 hours.
The family, represented by the nonprofit law firm ArchCity Defenders and attorney Jerryl Christmas, allege that Strode’s conduct is not unusual.
The lawsuit cites a 2020 report from the Ethical Society of Police, an association of primarily Black officers in St. Louis, that documented several incidents where city officers falsified information to seek search warrants.
“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, staff attorney with ArchCity Defenders in a statement.
SLMPD has the highest rate of police killings by population of any police department of the 100 largest U.S. cities, 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.”
Between 2009 and 2019, city officers reportedly killed at least 69 people, amassing 53% of total police killings in the region. In 2017, the city’s SWAT team killed two people on “no-knock” search warrant raids: Clark and Isaiah Hammett, 21.
Manasco participated in both incidents.
The lawsuit also states that Manasco was involved in the killing of Carlos Boles in March 2011, where he took pictures of Boles’s bullet-ridden body and then shared it with another officer.
“Despite talks of an ‘investigation,’” the lawsuit states, “Defendant Manasco remained in SWAT.”
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