Sacramento police chief doesn’t have facts on Stephon Clark protest. Mayor anxious for answers

Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg wants an explanation soon from the police department as to why officers arrested more than 80 people during a Stephon Clark protest Monday.

“I think we need answers significantly sooner than (the couple weeks promised by Police Chief Daniel Hahn),” Steinberg said in an interview Wednesday. “If we’re going to have the opportunity to learn from this and continue and recreate the momentum that we have established, the sooner the better.”

Hahn told the City Council on Tuesday that the department is reviewing police officer body camera footage from the demonstration.

“I’d be happy to come back in a couple weeks and give you the update of the facts that we’ve revealed, but I’d be a little remiss if I tried to guess at what the facts are right now,” Hahn told the council.

In a follow-up interview with The Bee Tuesday, 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.”

Hahn, through a spokesman, did not immediately respond to a request seeking comment Wednesday on whether the investigation could be finished sooner than a couple of weeks. But City Manager Howard Chan, Hahn’s boss, said the investigation would be done within two weeks.

“I’m confident we’re going to see it before two weeks,” Chan said. “There’s no doubt.”

The investigation could change the way officers respond to future demonstrations, Chan said.

“Once we understand what went on, we can see if there are opportunities where we can do things better and make changes,” Chan said. “The buck stops with me. The chief works for me. And I am confident with his leadership and his abilities to manage that department.”

More than 100 riot police arrested 84 people Monday night, including two journalists and several clergy members, as a protest in East Sacramento’s affluent Fab 40s neighborhood was winding down. Police ordered a group of people on the 51st Street overpass over Highway 50 to disperse, but the group yelled back they had nowhere to go because they were boxed in by officers. Police then handcuffed people on the bridge in plastic zip-ties and transported them to Cal Expo, where they were released after midnight.

Steinberg also wants an investigation of the event by the Office of Public Safety Accountability finished before a couple weeks pass, he said. Steinberg and council members directed the office to independently investigate the matter Tuesday.

Francine Tournour, the director of the office, said her goal is to finish the investigation before two weeks are up.

“The review is going to be carried out as expeditiously as possible to ensure the public is informed in a timely manner,” Tournour said Wednesday. “The questions I was asked, I think I can get to those sooner than months or weeks ... but I don’t know completely because we’re reliant on the police to get all that information.”

The police department has been “fully cooperative” so far, Tournour said.

Steinberg, in a press statement Tuesday, listed seven questions he said he wants Tournour’s office to look into:

What caused police to call for dispersal? What were the circumstances of the arrests? Were people arrested who were trying to leave but were trapped? What is the distinction between press and public during protests? Who was in command of all agencies involved? Why were people sent in one direction then blocked and arrested? What process is in place to revoke or dismiss journalists that were processed?

Steinberg did not publicly ask questions of Hahn during the council meeting Tuesday partly because he had already released his list of questions, and wanted to start listening to the public, he said. The two talked on the phone Monday night and met prior to the meeting Tuesday, he said.

“(Tuesday) night’s meeting was really to hear from the public,” Steinberg said. “There was obviously anger and emotion and it was our job to bear some of that and to be active listeners.”

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Theresa Clift covers Sacramento City Hall. Before joining The Bee in 2018, she worked as a local government reporter for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, the Daily Press in Virginia and the Wausau Daily Herald in Wisconsin. She grew up in Michigan and graduated from Central Michigan University.