Sacramento council meeting on police reform stopped by protesters

Raucous protesters halt Sacramento City Council meeting

Councilman Larry Carr, who was leading the meeting, made the decision to stop the proceedings.
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Councilman Larry Carr, who was leading the meeting, made the decision to stop the proceedings.

Protesters briefly shut down the Sacramento City Council meeting Thursday night during a discussion about police use-of-force policies.

The protesters took over the council chambers during a 15-minute hiatus, when Mayor Pro Tem Larry Carr recessed the meeting because of disturbances. Carr had warned audience members not to clap or make noise during public comments, but they continued.

Twenty-six people were signed up to speak on Carr’s proposed policy limiting lethal force, but only two made it to the podium before chaos erupted. Carr was leading the meeting in the absence of Mayor Kevin Johnson and Vice Mayor Rick Jennings.

Sacramento radio DJ Jay King was addressing the council when Carr interrupted to ask the audience not to clap during public comment. King fired back that people were making noise because they were tired of not being heard.

The chambers erupted in applause and comment. Carr called a recess, and council members left the dais. While they were gone, about 150 people chanted and spoke while others walked out in protest.

“The power of the people is what you are watching,” King said, as protesters took over the chambers.

Miraj Simpson, one of the protesters, said: “The police need to hold their own accountable as well because if the good police don’t call out the bad police, it makes it hard to tell the difference.”

The meeting resumed around 6:45 p.m. with protesters promising to remain silent as others spoke, but many continued to hold up their hands to show support for speakers. By 6:52 p.m. the audience was clapping again and Carr was once again calling for silence.

Later, during Councilman Steve Hansen's comments, two protesters were removed by police at Hansen and Carr's request. Hansen had told protesters he was “disappointed” in their behavior.

“You do not have a right to disrupt the meeting, to scream, to shout to threaten,” he said. Hansen's comments drew anger from protesters, and many left the chambers.

Councilman Allen Warren was more conciliatory.

“I think that tonight is a reflection of a lot of things converging,” he said. “Obviously there is a lot of tension and energy in the room, and it is my belief it is well founded.”

The council was scheduled Thursday to debate a use-of-force proposal that could restrict officers from resorting to deadly measures. It was proposed in response to the public outcry over the fatal police shooting of a mentally ill homeless man in July.

The 12-point policy presented by Carr would authorize lethal force “only when there is an imminent threat to life and such force is strictly unavoidable to protect life.” The policy would be a directive for the department to implement and does not include specific regulations.

The recommendation also calls for publicly releasing video in fatal police shootings if it “does not hamper” the investigation and after relatives of the person killed have an opportunity to view it. Sacramento police have long cited an ongoing investigation as a reason to withhold footage.

Thursday’s council meeting was filled with community and religious leaders pressing for changes to the department after the July shooting of Joseph Mann, a mentally ill man who was armed with a knife and acting erratically in North Sacramento.

Mann was shot by two officers, John Tennis and Randy Lozoya. Before shooting Mann, the officers attempted to hit him with their patrol car, based on dashcam footage released by the Police Department last month.

Other officers who responded minutes before attempted to de-escalate the situation by asking Mann to drop his knife as they followed him in their police car.

Mann’s family has sued the city, asked the Sacramento County District Attorney’s Office to criminally charge Tennis and Lozoya, and sought a U.S. Department of Justice investigation into the Sacramento Police Department.

Judith Odbert, an attorney for Tennis and Lozoya, said in a statement last week that the officers’ actions were “reasonable and justified under the circumstances.”

Carr said the use-of-force policy was one part of a more comprehensive set of reforms that he hopes to bring to the Council by Nov. 22. He said he presented his proposal Thursday to gather comment from council members and the public. The recommendation will return to a subcommittee. No vote was planned Thursday.

The councilman, who represents Meadowview and south Sacramento, said a more extensive package of reforms will also include a stronger plan for civilian oversight of the Police Department, likely revamping or replacing the Sacramento Community Police Commission.

The head of that commission, Les Simmons, resigned on Tuesday, calling the commission “not relevant” without greater oversight powers.

Carr said he would like to see a new community policing board modeled after one in Berkeley. That commission can advise and recommend policy and procedures and has the power to independently investigate claims of police misconduct. But it does not have the power to directly discipline officers.

Sacramento Police Chief Sam Somers Jr. is retiring in December, and an interim chief likely will be named in coming weeks as the search for a permanent replacement begins.

Anita Chabria: 916-321-1049, @chabriaa

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