Tensions boil over at City Council meeting over police treatment of Stephon Clark protesters

What the City Council missed when it ducked out over disruptive comment on police response

The Sacramento City Council called a recess Tuesday, March 5, 2019, after a commenter – angry about police response to a Stephon Clark protest Monday – disrupted the meeting. The audience debated how to move forward for about 15 minutes.
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The Sacramento City Council called a recess Tuesday, March 5, 2019, after a commenter – angry about police response to a Stephon Clark protest Monday – disrupted the meeting. The audience debated how to move forward for about 15 minutes.

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At a raucous meeting Tuesday night, the Sacramento City Council heard from more than 40 residents who were enraged by the police’s reaction to a protest Monday night.

Police ended a Stephon Clark march in East Sacramento by arresting protesters on a bridge over Highway 50. Police arrested 84 people Monday night, including 78 on the bridge and multiple media personnel and clergy.

After about an hour of public comments at Tuesday’s meeting, Alexander Clark — who is not related to Stephon Clark — told Mayor Darrell Steinberg to “shut the f--- up.” Clark told Steinberg that Steinberg didn’t care about Stephon Clark. Clark refused to return to the audience after going over his allotted time.

He then jumped up on the lectern, screaming as council members attempted to call forward the next speaker.

Police swarmed Clark as Steinberg called out “leave him alone” while audience members began chants repeating Stephon Clark’s name.

Steinberg ordered a recess of the meeting and councilors left the room. The audience loudly debated how to move forward amongst themselves for about 15 minutes while waiting for the council to return and the meeting to resume.

In one corner of the council meeting, someone had pulled the drapes down.

“What just occurred is you expressed the level of trauma that you’ve been experienced here by the militarized display of our law enforcement,” Rev. Kevin Kitrell Ross said, urging the crowd to be calm and to resume speaking to the council in an orderly fashion.

Ross and other faith leaders eventually got the crowd to settle down. Council members returned to their spots and resumed hearing comments from the public about a half hour after the disruption began.

“We can’t have what just happened happen again. In other words we’re OK,” Steinberg told the audience.

After nearly four hours of sometimes tense discussion, Steinberg adjourned the council meeting around 8:50 p.m.

Upset over 84 arrests at Monday Stephon Clark protest

Keith Jouganatos told councilors that protesters were beaten, harassed and abused, and zip-tied “like cattle.”

“What occurred last night was one of the darkest nights this city has ever had to endure,” he said. He asked Police Chief Chief Daniel Hahn to hold officers accountable for their actions and said the community no longer had trust in the police department.

Earlier in the day, Steinberg and members of the City Council directed the city’s public safety accountability office to investigate police tactics used during the street protest Monday. The police response prompted complaints from activists that they had been tricked and trapped by police as they were trying to get to their cars to go home.

The mayor said Hahn is conducting an internal investigation, but “an independent investigation will help ensure that the public knows exactly what transpired.”

“I want to guarantee the right of peaceful protest and freedom of the press while simultaneously protecting public safety,” Steinberg said in a public statement Tuesday afternoon.

Steinberg, who said he was making the request in conjunction with the City Council, said they are asking the city’s public safety accountability officer Francine Tournour to provide answers as quickly as possible.

Attorney Amar Shergill, speaking during public comment, urged the council to rescind the citations received by the 84 protesters Monday night who were accused of failing to disperse.

“You need to wipe those citations away,” Shergill said.

Police chief asks for ‘a couple weeks’ for analysis

Speaking at the beginning of an emotional City Council meeting, Hahn said he would wait “a couple weeks” before providing his analysis of the mass protest arrests from Monday night.

“There is no doubt that this protest ended differently than the vast majority of protests that we have,” Hahn said, but he did not apologize or explain why his officers decided to arrest 84 people – including pastors and journalists.

“We will definitely be getting to the facts,” Hahn said.

He said the department would examine body camera footage from officers on the scene.

“I’d be happy to come back in a couple weeks and give an update on what the facts are,” he said.

“As you all know, we did have a few media folks arrested and that is definitely unusual for our city,” he added.

In a follow-up interview with The Sacramento Bee, Hahn said the department “had an incident commander in charge” overseeing the department’s response to the protest. Asked who it was, he responded, “That’s a good question.”

“I don’t know who was in charge at that moment,” he said. “I wasn’t there.”

The chief said he “completely understands people’s concern of the way that went down (with 84 arrests); it’s not necessarily the norm for Sacramento.”

Police escalated their response to the protest after receiving reports of cars getting “keyed” in the Fab 40’s. Hahn said “there were some cars keyed, but I couldn’t tell you how many or where they were at.”

Public upset over treatment at Clark protest

At the start of public comments, three local clergy members told councilors they were “severely failed” by police officers who arrested 84 people during the Clark protest.

Speaking first, the Rev. Kevin Ross of Unity of Sacramento said “We were severely failed last night. ... Last night was the shame of the nation.”

Rev. Dr. Mary Westfall described how officers forced protesters to move down 51st Street in East Sacramento, away from a Trader Joe’s on Folsom Boulevard. Rev. Pamela Anderson, a Sacramento minister, described being shoved by an officer with a bike. Once the protesters were isolated on a bridge over Highway 50, police arrested 78 people, including two journalists.

“I would like to know whose idea that kind of tactical strategy was,” Westfall said.

“It could have gone very bad very quickly,” Anderson said. “We are better than this.”

Several commenters claimed police used violence against marchers. One woman said she saw detainees whose wrists were bleeding from zip ties fastened too tight. Multiple people said they had seen a man with his arm in a sling due to a dislocated joint.

Two reporters were arrested Monday night and The Bee’s Dale Kasler was detained by police for about an hour.

Former Sacramento County Sheriff John McGinness, contacted by The Bee, said he could not recall an instance in which a reporter was detained during a protest environment. “I have seen reporters detained before, but not in a crowd control situation, in other situations,” McGinness said.

McGinness added that if it is abundantly clear that a person is a media member merely observing the demonstration, they “certainly” should not be detained or arrested. “There’s no doubt that this will be the subject of a lot of discussion, a lot of after-event investigation,” McGinness said. “It should be scrutinized, and I have no doubt it will be.”

McGinness said vandalism or property damage, even at a relatively small frequency, can be enough for police to deem a demonstration unlawful. “If your car’s about to be keyed, I would submit that you would probably want the police to stop that,” McGinness said. “Is it the crime of the century? No, but it’s the first indication as unlawful activity begins to break out.”

Members of the public who want to share concerns or questions with the Office of Public Safety Accountability should call 916-808-7525.

Last year, during a heated first City Council meeting after the Stephon Clark shooting, his brother, Stevante Clark, and a small group disrupted the proceeding, shouting at the mayor to shut up, and prompting Steinberg to shut the meeting down. A large group then marched to Golden 1 Center and blockaded fans from getting into that night’s Kings game.

Protest focuses on police headquarters

In addition to the heated City Council meeting, activists made their presence felt at the police department’s headquarters on Freeport Boulevard by occupying the parking lot.

The protest was initially confined to the parking lot of the station, although Black Lives Matter organizer Sonia Lewis said Monday that protesters planned to enter the building. A police spokesman said demonstrators would be allowed inside as long as they didn’t cause damage or endanger safety.

Protesters came prepared with food, drinks and a pop-up shelter on a drizzly afternoon. The pop-up was erected right in front of the building entrance, and placards protesting the Clark shooting were held up by a couple dozen protesters.

Anderson, of the Presbytery of Sacramento, was among those arrested and was also in attendance at the police station.

Anderson said she and other clergy were at the march “to create space” between protesters and riot police as the situation grew increasingly tense.

She said she was surprised when police started arresting her and others, and the scene was surreal.

“It was like something out of a movie — there was a helicopter overhead, our shadows were all over the ground.

“We were just trying to get everybody to remain calm,” she said.

Members of the public who want to share concerns or questions with the Office of Public Safety Accountability should call 916-808-7525.

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James Patrick has covered the beer scene from Maine to California. (OK, mostly just those two.) He’s worked at newspapers in six states as a sports reporter, sports editor, social media editor and newspaper carrier. He’s as comfortable drinking a High Life as a wild-fermented raspberry sour.