Sheriff’s vehicle appears to have hit a protester at Stephon Clark vigil
A protester at a vigil Saturday night for Stephon Clark was hit by a Sacramento County Sheriff's Department vehicle on Florin Road, the latest tense moment between law enforcement and activists following the March 18 police shooting death of the unarmed black man.
Witnesses and the struck protester said the sheriff's vehicle left the scene.
The collision, captured on video by Guy Danilowitz of the National Lawyers Guild, occurred as protesters marched on Florin Road in south Sacramento.
The activist struck was Wanda Cleveland, a regular at Sacramento City Council meetings. She lay immobile on her side in the street until a fire department crew arrived to pick her up.
Cleveland was released from Kaiser Permanente South Sacramento Medical Center after midnight, with bruises on her arm and the back of her head.
"He never even stopped. It was a hit and run. If I did that I’d be charged," Cleveland said at the hospital. "It's disregard for human life."
In a press release early Sunday morning, sheriff's spokesman Sgt. Shaun Hampton confirmed the accident had occurred. The release said two sheriff's department vehicles were surrounded at about 8:40 p.m. by protesters who were yelling and kicking the vehicles.
"Vandals in the crowd" caused "scratches, dents, and a shattered rear window" to a sheriff's vehicle, the release said. The release did not address why the vehicle that struck Cleveland did not stop, and Hampton did not immediately respond to a request for further details.
Dominique Poydras, who was attending the vigil, said a group of protesters had surrounded a Sheriff's Department vehicle and a few were throwing eggs at it.
Based on footage captured by Channel 10, a sheriff's vehicle pulled up, lights flashing, as protesters marched in the street. About three dozen people then surrounded the vehicle and kept chanting.
The sheriff's deputy four times sounded his siren and said, "Back away from my vehicle." He slowly pulled forward and left the scene. A second sheriff's vehicle followed and struck Cleveland, sending her to the curb, the Channel 10 video shows.
Cleveland said that when the first vehicle said to clear out, she started to walk toward the curb because her arthritis was making her knees weak. The second vehicle driver made no request, she said, and abruptly accelerated and hit her in the knee, sending her into the air.
"I heard wheels spin. And then I saw her body flung to the curb," Tifanei Ressl-Moyer, another legal observer who witnessed the incident, said. "The vehicle sped off and some protesters went after them."
The sheriff's department release said the patrol vehicle was traveling at "slow speeds" when the collision occurred.
Chris Vestal, a spokesman for the Sacramento Metropolitan Fire District, confirmed that the department responded to a collision between a vehicle and a pedestrian near 65th and Florin and transported the pedestrian to the hospital. He did not elaborate.
Legal observer Cres Velluchi recorded the number of the patrol car that hit Cleveland as 1476894 and reported it to the California Highway Patrol. Velluchi said the Highway Patrol declined to take the information.
The sheriff's department is conducting an internal investigation and the California Highway Patrol is also investigating, according to the sheriff's department press release.
About 100 protesters, mostly young people in their 20s, remained after the collision and shut down traffic in all directions at the intersection of 65th and Florin Road.
A small group approached the nearby Sacramento County Sheriff's Department station, but stopped across a parking lot from the building. A row of officers lined up outside the station.
The protesters began chanting "hit and run." A helicopter overhead ordered them to disperse or be arrested, and they returned to the larger protest.
Jamier Sale of the ANSWER Coalition, who organized the vigil, called off the protesters at around 10:40 p.m. and many went home. Then about three dozen California Highway Patrol and sheriff's department officers formed a riot line and pushed approximately 50 remaining protesters back to a parking lot.
"We were trying to leave and the police once again were provoking people into confrontation," Sale said.
About 40 minutes later, the organizers had protesters turn away from the riot line and walk into the parking lot. Most police retreated to their cars and left the area. About two dozen protesters remained, walking in the street and blocking traffic, until shortly after midnight.
At 7 p.m., approximately 150 people had gathered at the corner of 65th Expressway and Florin Road for a vigil honoring Clark and other victims of police shootings.
Attendees held candles as they chanted at the intersection. Two held up a large white sign reading, "It's a phone, not a gun!" Cars zooming by honked in support.
Clark, 22, was shot the night of March 18 after being chased into his grandmother's backyard by two officers responding to reports of a man breaking car windows. Deputies in the helicopter reported seeing a man in a backyard pick up an object and break a window, though the helicopter video did not capture that moment.
Police said the officers thought Clark had a gun. After the shooting, they determined he was holding a cellphone.
Sale said the vigil was meant to hold the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department accountable for its part in Clark's shooting, unlike previous protests that focused on the Sacramento Police Department. Police say a sheriff’s department helicopter came to help local officers responding to reports of broken car windows nearby.
"The dominant narrative has really focused on the two officers who pulled the trigger," Sale said. "We have to realize they didn't just find themselves there. They were directed to this position by this other officer in a helicopter."
Sale questioned why authorities used a helicopter to respond to what he described as a "petty crime," and he called for the firing of the deputy or deputies in the helicopter that responded to the 911 call leading to Clark’s shooting.
While city leaders have faced calls for reforms within the police force following the shooting, he added, the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors has not received equal calls for accountability within the sheriff’s department.
Hampton said earlier Saturday he would not respond to the vigil because the Clark case was being reviewed by the Sacramento Police Department.
The vigil followed nearly a week of protests — largely nonviolent, though at times confrontational — in downtown Sacramento. Up to 300 protesters marched Friday night until nearly 1 a.m., after Clark's family released a private autopsy showing that he was shot eight times, including six times in the back, by Sacramento police.
Sale said the vigil was intended to create a space for residents of south Sacramento. Most of the protests and rallies held following the shooting have played out in the central city.
Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg issued a statement Friday calling for peaceful action: "From the bottom of my heart, I urge our entire community to continue to work together through nonviolent civil action as we pursue justice and demand reform."
Alexander Clark, who is not related to Stephon Clark, said he came to Sacramento from Minneapolis to participate in the protests. He lost a cousin to a police shooting in 2015.
"I felt like it was important to be here. I feel like his life mattered," Alexander Clark said of Stephon. "The revolution is coming. We need to spread awareness."
The protesters did not return downtown Saturday evening, as fans attended Golden 1 Center for a Kings game against the Golden State Warriors.
Protesters caused an arena lockdown at two recent games, preventing thousands of fans from entering. But the team and police instituted higher security measures starting Thursday that enabled fans to enter without disruption, and they continued Saturday with the presence of an estimated 170 police officers in riot gear.
Roger Resek, a Kings fan from West Sacramento, said he felt "confident and comfortable" attending Saturday’s game after learning the added security features put in place during Thursday night’s game would also be in place that night.
Resek arrived at the game several hours earlier than usual as an added precaution, however, he said. He was one of the thousands of fans who were turned away during the team’s March 22 game against the Atlanta Hawks. That night, he arrived to Golden 1 Center just before tipoff, as he usually does, only to see fans headed the opposite direction.
"It was inconvenient for the patrons, but I understand the concept," he said of the protests.
Earlier Saturday, several hundred gathered for a rally across from City Hall, where Sacramento native and former Kings player Matt Barnes announced a college scholarship fund for Clark's two sons. Barnes said it is the beginning of an effort to address the violent death of young black men that he would like to expand across the country.
"This is a nationwide problem," he said. "Once we get it up we are to going carry it nationwide, to provide kids who have lost their father to unfortunate stuff like this a chance to still come up and be productive men."