The Sacramento County District Attorney’s Office has decided to refile charges against local activist Sean Thompson, who shoved a pie in the face of then-Mayor Kevin Johnson at a 2016 charity event.
This time, however, the previous felony assault charge will be knocked down to a misdemeanor. The new trial is set to start in August.
“We’re disappointed at the district attorney’s decision to go forward and conduct another trial at taxpayer expense,” Thompson’s lawyer, Claire White, said after Thursday’s announcement that her client would be retried. “Mr. Thompson is a civil disobedient. He has never claimed anything otherwise.”
White, however, added she was “pleased that Mr. Thompson no longer has a felony hanging over his head.”
In May, a Sacramento judge declared a mistrial in the felony assault trial against Thompson.
That trial ended in a hung jury, but Thompson was upbraided as unrepentant by Sacramento Superior Court Judge Robert Twiss after the judge sent jurors home and rejected Thompson’s lawyers’ bid to drop the felony charge against their client to a misdemeanor ahead of a possible second trial.
“This has always been a felony because he assaulted a public official,” Twiss said from the bench in May. “It’s not misdemeanor conduct.”
Prosecuting Sacramento County Deputy District Attorney Anthony Ortiz on Thursday declined to discuss the case or prosecutors’ decision to seek the new reduced charge.
Pieing the mayor triggered an ugly scene at the September charity event, held at the Sacramento Charter High School in Oak Park, the neighborhood where Johnson grew up. Johnson, who was caught unaware by the banana cream pie, retaliated with a series of punches that Thompson’s lawyers called “street justice,” bloodying the activist before Johnson was yanked away by security.
Johnson was subpoenaed by Thompson’s attorneys to testify at trial but never took the stand. But the defendant’s lawyers at trial seized on the pummeling Thompson absorbed at the hands of Johnson, calling it a “brutal beatdown” and shifting focus onto the mayor’s swift, violent reaction to the pie stunt.
The tactic worked. The jury’s forewoman said White’s closing argument that returned to Johnson’s retaliation swayed “one or two jurors,” enough for a mistrial.
On Thursday, Thompson, dressed casually in blue jeans and the T-shirt, sat in the front row of the gallery as Ortiz announced prosecutors’ decision to file the new charge and called for an Aug. 24 trial date.
Thompson had taken the unique step of changing his plea on the now-misdemeanor assault allegation from “not guilty” to “once in jeopardy,” White said, adding jurors rendered their decision in May. A hearing will be held Aug. 17 to litigate the issue.
“We have a right in this country not to be tried twice for the same crime,” White said following Thursday’s hearing. “We hope the court finds as we do that Mr. Thompson doesn’t have to go through an entirely second trial for the exact same offense.”
Thompson has said the pieing was meant to call attention to Johnson’s not doing enough to help Sacramento’s homeless population. Thompson and his attorneys have repeatedly branded the pie stunt as an act of political theater and civil disobedience. Thompson did not testify at trial, but White said Thompson saw the pie incident as a last-ditch effort after advocating for the homeless at city council meetings, public forums and in work with the Occupy movement.
On Thursday, Thompson said retrying the case would be “another circus that we have to go through all over again, probably for the exact same result.”
White on Thursday said Thompson offered to accept a guilty plea deal for a misdemeanor “disturbing the peace” charge with time served and no probation.
“We think that charge closely comports with his conduct as we argued in the last trial and hopefully the district attorney makes the right decision about that offer,” she said.