The 62-year-old woman struck by a Sacramento County Sheriff’s SUV last March during a protest over the police killing of Stephon Clark caused the accident that injured her and left her with nearly $43,000 in medical bills, a California Highway Patrol investigation has found.
Wanda Sue Cleveland, a well-known Sacramento-area activist, was blamed as being “the cause of this collision” because she walked into the path of the SUV while carrying a protest sign and tried to stop the vehicle, according to a 42-page traffic collision report released to The Sacramento Bee Friday in response to a public records act request.
Cleveland filed a claim against the county on Sept. 26 seeking damages for the incident, and her attorney, Mark Reichel, said he was “very, very disappointed” that the report echoed claims made by Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones following the incident.
“It appears to have been dictated by Scott Jones of the sheriff’s department,” Reichel said. “It was supposed to be an outside, independent investigation.”
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Reichel said the report’s findings would not affect the claim against the county, which is a precursor to a lawsuit, and added, “Her sign was made out of paper. His car was made out of steel.”
The sheriff’s department issued a statement noting that it had “fully cooperated with the California Highway Patrol regarding their investigation into the March 31, 2018 collision involving a Sheriff’s Department vehicle and a pedestrian.”
“The Sheriff’s Department has provided their investigators access to our personnel and any evidence needed to complete their thorough investigation into this incident,” the statement added.
The CHP report, which was redacted to exclude all video from sheriff’s vehicles as well as interviews with Cleveland, deputies and witnesses, says the incident occurred at 8:41 p.m. on March 31 after 100 demonstrators gathered at Florin Road and Fawn Way near a sheriff’s substation to protest the March 18 shooting of Clark, an unarmed black man, by two Sacramento police officers.
Cleveland was holding a sign and marching east in the westbound lanes of Florin Road as Deputy Miguel Trejo, driving a Ford Explorer SUV labeled as Ford #549, and his partner, identified only as “Deputy Rivera,” approached in separate vehicles, the report found.
“Cleveland left her location of safety and began to walk into the #3 lane purposely placing herself in harm’s way by walking directly in front of and towards Ford #549; failing to yield the right-of-way to an emergency vehicle as it was already moving with full code-3 emergency lights activated,” the report found. “Cleveland attempted to stop Ford #549 by placing her hand up as an indication to stop.
“Trejo’s attention was drawn to the left as his vehicle began being attacked aggressively. Trejo never saw Cleveland walk out in front of his patrol vehicle. Trejo continued moving forward in Ford #549, subsequently contacting Cleveland with the right front of Ford #549. Cleveland rolled off Ford #549, striking the roadway.”
The report bolsters the sheriff’s earlier statements that Trejo may not have known he hit Cleveland and left the scene because his car and his partner’s were both being attacked by protesters.
“As Ford #549 continued moving forward, many people began yelling and continuing to assault his vehicle to the point of shattering the rear hatch window,” the report states. “Fearing for his safety from the aggressive crowd, Trejo left the scene in Ford #549. Trejo immediately drove back to his station, watched his in-car video recording and reported the incident to his immediate supervisor, Sergeant Vettel.”
The report also cataloged the damage done to Trejo’s vehicle by the crowd and the concern the deputies had at the time.
“The crowd increasingly became more hostile toward the two deputies,” the CHP concluded. “The patrol vehicles began to sustain all types of vandalism ranging from kicks, punches, and objects being thrown at all sides of their vehicles.
“Ford #549 sustained the brunt of the vandalism with dents to the right and left quarter panels, a crushed in driver side door, a dent and gouge to the passenger door, and a shattered rear hatch window. Both Trejo and Rivera began to fear for their personal safety as the vandals continued to damage their vehicles. Rivera made notification to dispatch requesting backup, as he feared that he was being overrun by protestors.”
The protest was aimed at the sheriff’s department that night because its helicopter had assisted police in the pursuit of Clark, who was a suspected car burglar and ended up being chased into the backyard of his grandparents’ Meadowview home.
Sacramento police have said the officers feared for their safety and thought Clark had a gun. Subsequent investigation showed he was carrying only a cell phone, and the release of police body cam videos and footage from the helicopter overhead helped spur massive protests that shut down Interstate 5, stopped rush-hour traffic downtown and blocked access to Sacramento Kings games.
The Clark family has filed claims against the city seeking more than $35 million, and protests against the police, city officials and Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert continue.
The CHP investigation included analysis of the deputies’ in-car video recordings, as well as recordings of the incident taken at the scene, although those videos or descriptions of them were not released Friday.
The CHP investigation began almost immediately, with an officer going to Cleveland’s Elk Grove home at 2:07 a.m. after the incident but being turned away.
“As I pulled up I noticed the porch light on,” according to the report, which lists Officer J. Hand as the investigating officer. “As I was walking toward the front door with my flashlight on, a light turned on in one of the front bedrooms.
“I shined my flashlight at the front door and window. A female occupant opened the door yelling, I informed Cleveland who I was and that I was there to gather her statement regarding this incident. She became very hostile toward me and was not happy with the time of day I arrived at her home.”
The CHP made several more attempts to contact Cleveland, eventually talking to her and her attorney on April 26, the report says.