Pedestrian advocates say a Del Paso Heights man legally crossed the street before a police officer stopped him for jaywalking and repeatedly punched him in the face.
Kirin Kumar, executive director of WalkSacramento, said Nandi Cain Jr. did not break any laws when he crossed Grand Avenue at Cypress Street in Del Paso Heights on April 10, based on the organization’s review of Sacramento Police Department dashcam video.
Without specifically commenting on the Cain incident, a California Office of Traffic Safety spokesman confirmed the group’s explanation of legal pedestrian crossings.
Although Cypress Street does not have a marked crosswalk across Grand Avenue, the path Cain took is legally an “unmarked crosswalk,” Kumar said. The California Vehicle Code defines a legal crosswalk as an intersection of streets where pedestrian access – such as a sidewalk – continues on both sides of the road, he explained.
Cain, a 24-year-old African American, was seen in the video crossing Grand Avenue northbound from one sidewalk to another.
“Legally a crosswalk doesn’t need to have paint to be a crosswalk,” said Kumar. “He was crossing in an unmarked crosswalk, which are legal crossings both in the state of California and the city of Sacramento.”
The incident drew national attention after bystander video captured the officer punching Cain in the face multiple times before police arrested the pedestrian. Within 24 hours, the Police Department dropped resisting arrest and obstructing officer charges against Cain, put the two-year officer on paid administrative leave and released video of the incident.
WalkSacramento, a nonprofit that rarely weighs into such controversial issues, took a strong stance this week challenging the unidentified police officer’s stated justification for stopping Cain. The Sacramento group along with California Walks declared that they “denounce” the “violent arrest” of Cain. They also posted a video of Cain crossing the street and a graphic representation of the intersection in question with an explanation that “motorists must yield the right of way even if the crosswalk isn’t marked with paint.”
Chris Cochran of the California Office of Traffic Safety confirmed Kumar’s definition of a crosswalk.
“Any place there is an intersection there is also a crosswalk implied whether it is marked with stripes and lines or not,” Cochran said. “If there are not stripes and it is at a corner or intersection, it is still legally a crosswalk.”
After Cain crossed Grand Avenue at 5:07 p.m. on April 10, an officer in a patrol car attempted to stop him.
In dashcam video, the officer is heard telling Cain, “Come here, bud.”
Cain continues to walk and questions if the officer has “probable cause” for stopping him.
“I do, you’re jaywalking, you’re jaywalking back there,” said the officer.
“I looked both ways,” Cain said. “I looked both ways.”
Cain soon after told the officer, “You want to pull me over for nothing.”
After the verbal exchange escalated, the officer threw Cain to the ground and punched him 18 times in the face. Cain suffered a broken nose and a concussion, according to his attorney.
Danielle Williams, community organizer for Sacramento Area Congregations Together, said she felt it was an instance of racial profiling and that the officer may have been “watching him and looking for something.”
Williams added that “if the cops are going to enforce the law, they need to know the law.”
Kumar said that local police are aware of crosswalk regulations.
“Cops know this. Having worked with (Sacramento) P.D. for three years, they are well aware of both marked and unmarked crosswalks,” he said.
In its original news release on April 11, the department said that the officer “attempted to stop a pedestrian who was observed crossing the street unlawfully.”
In a subsequent release, the department softened its description of Cain’s walk, calling it a “perceived violation.”
The Sacramento Police Department did not respond to a request for comment Friday.
Earlier in the week, the department said that many of its jaywalking citations last year were issued as part of a grant-funded traffic safety program that targeted dangerous intersections in the North Sacramento area. The intersection Cain was crossing was not part of that enforcement area.
A Bee investigation found that black people in Sacramento receive jaywalking citations at 5 times the rate of other pedestrians.