As marchers were taking over downtown Sacramento's streets Friday with protests against the shooting death of Stephon Clark, the Sacramento Police Department was facing another challenge: the filing of a new federal lawsuit accusing one of its officers of sexually molesting an African American woman two years ago during an arrest.
The lawsuit, filed in federal court Friday afternoon on behalf of Candida Johnson, accuses Officer Patrick Mulligan of groping her bra and groin area during his March 2016 arrest of her in connection with a report of a stolen cell phone.
Johnson did not respond to requests for comment Sunday. Mulligan adamantly denied the claims in the suit.
"What I can tell you is, that never happened," Mulligan said in a telephone interview. "That never happened in my 31 years of law enforcement."
Mulligan, who said he retired in February 2017 after 27 years with the department, said he recalled the arrest of Johnson but said he first learned of the groping accusation when The Bee called his home Sunday seeking comment.
"That's completely false," he said. "That's not even close to anything like that happening."
The lawsuit comes as the department is the subject of national scrutiny over the March 18 slaying of Clark, a 22-year-old Sacramento man shot by two officers responding to a report of a car burglar.
Officers chased Clark, who ended up in the backyard of his grandparents' home, and fired 20 shots at him because they believed he was holding a gun. Clark was unarmed, and was found to have been carrying a cell phone.
Videos from the officers' body cameras and from a Sacramento Sheriff's Department helicopter led to national outrage and marches in Sacramento last week that shut down Interstate 5, snarled traffic throughout the city and forced Sacramento Kings officials to close the doors to the Golden One Arena for a game that was starting as protesters approached the building.
Now, with Clark family attorney Benjamin Crump planning a news conference in Sacramento Monday, the department is being hit with a new allegation of mistreatment of an African-American resident.
Police spokesman Sgt. Vance Chandler said Sunday that he knew nothing about the lawsuit, and confirmed that Mulligan had been an officer with the department but had retired.
The lawsuit names Mulligan, who is white, and the department and seeks unspecified damages for allegations of false arrest and excessive and unnecessary force.
Johnson attorney Jeff Kravitz said his client was late in making a complaint to police and had approached the law firm only recently. "A few weeks ago we did contact internal affairs," Kravitz said, adding that co-counsel Jose Valdez was told that Mulligan no longer worked at the department.
The lawsuit says the incident stems from a call to police on March 25 or 26, 2016 concerning a stolen cell phone.
Kravitz said in an interview that Johnson's cell phone had been stolen and that she used an app on the phone to locate it and the people who had it.
"She went and talked to those people, so they complained to the police," Kravitz said.
According to the lawsuit, Mulligan and other officers appeared at the scene and encountered Johnson.
"While Ms. Johnson was with him he ordered her to lift up her shirt to expose her breasts," the suit alleges. "He then violently grabbed Ms. Johnson by her bra and lifted the bra up over her breasts.
"Officer Mulligan told Ms. Johnson to stand up against a vehicle. He then proceeded to squeeze her breasts and he ran his hands in between her legs."
Mulligan drove Johnson to the Sacramento County Jail for booking, and during the drive "taunted and intimidated Ms. Johnson," the lawsuit says.
Upon arrival at the jail, he took her out of the car, pushed her underwear down and "forcibly inserted his finger" into her, the suit says.
"Ms. Johnson asked officer Mulligan 'why was he doing this?'" the suit says. "He responded that he was checking to see if Ms. Johnson had any drugs in her."
The suit also claims that when he escorted her into the jail booking area he made a comment that her pants were too tight and that she was wearing a padded bra, and that other officers "overheard these comments and laughed."
Sacramento Superior Court online records show only one case against Johnson, with charges of kidnapping and robbery connected to the cell phone dispute that were dismissed in April 2017.
"She was completely exonerated," Kravitz said.
Mulligan, 51, lists his experience with the department on his LinkedIn page as "Field Training Officer, Supervisor, Peer Support Counselor, Police Academy Instructor, Communications Academy Instructor, Police Recruiter, Detective, and most recently, Honor Guard member."
The day before the alleged incident, then-Chief Sam Somers tweeted a picture with Mulligan congratulating him on receiving the "Power Inn Alliance Top Cop" award.
Mulligan initially said Sunday that he did not remember the arrest and that the suit may be targeting the wrong officer.
But after hearing the description from the lawsuit, he said he remembered the case and that "there was a lot of finger pointing" between Johnson and another woman at the scene. He added that he thought two women had been arrested that day, but "that's been so long ago."
He was adamant, however, that the fondling allegations were false, and he noted that all police cars are equipped with cameras.
"This is the first I've heard of this, and I imagine if there was a claim like that you better believe they'd be calling me in on that," he said. "They'd be putting a warrant out for my arrest."