Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert announced Friday that charges will not be filed against the 84 people arrested Monday night during an East Sacramento protest following her decision to not file charges against the police officers who shot and killed Stephon Clark.
“In the interest of justice, no charges will be filed in any of the cases submitted,” the district attorney’s office said in an email Friday.
Marchers Monday night were protesting Saturday’s announcement by the district attorney that she would not prosecute the two city police officers who shot and killed Clark, a 22-year-old black man, mistakenly thinking the cellphone in his hand was a gun.
The group was calling for the firing of the two officers. Sacramento Police Department took steps to shut down the protest Monday after 10 p.m., using plastic zip ties to handcuff protesters. One Sacramento Bee reporter was detained while on assignment at the protest, and two other journalists were arrested.
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The protest wound through the Fab 40s neighborhood and protesters ended up in the Trader Joe’s parking lot on Folsom Boulevard when police in riot gear started advancing after several orders to disperse. Police said they escalated their response after receiving reports of at least five cars getting “keyed” in the neighborhood.
Marchers retreated from police on 51st Street at the overcrossing to Highway 50, but were unable to disperse because bike officers had taken a position on the opposite side of the bridge.
After police surrounded the demonstrators, officers began removing people from the crowd one by one, according to witness reports. Members of clergy were among those detained and arrested.
An officer told Bee reporter Dale Kasler, who was detained despite showing his press credentials, when they get the order to arrest a large group, they sweep up everyone and don’t make distinctions based on occupation.
Those arrested were taken to Cal Expo for processing and released around 2 a.m.
Reaction Friday afternoon’s decision was swift with local legal observers voicing relief and one Constitutional law professor questioning why demonstrators were arrested in the first place.
“I don’t think there’s any way they can file (charges). On First Amendment grounds as well as due process, they couldn’t go through with it,” said John Sims, a professor of constitutional law at University of the Pacific McGeorge School of Law in Sacramento. “It doesn’t sound like there was any basis. Nobody did anything wrong,” Sims said, adding Schubert’s decision not to file charges amounted to an implicit admission that Sacramento police “really messed this up.”
Police were asked to explain their actions at a tense City Council meeting Tuesday, in which Chief Daniel Hahn said “there is no doubt that this protest ended differently than the vast majority of protests that we have.”
He said the department would examine body camera footage from officers at the protest and give an update in a “couple weeks.”
A day after the protest, Mayor Darrell Steinberg and members of the City Council directed the city’s public safety accountability office to investigate police tactics used.
In a news release Friday, police said they gave more than 30 orders to disperse before proceeding with an “orderly arrest process.” Police said the vandalism, a verbal confrontation and assault between a protestor and a resident, and a protestor holding an unknown object that was on fire prompted them to declare the protest an unlawful assembly.
Three photos included in the news release show two cars with scratch damage down the side and another car with a dent on the door. The location of the cars at the time of the photos is not readily apparent.
Police did not directly address the DA’s decision in the press release.
“It’s the DA’s decision and we’re not going to speak on her behalf,” said Officer Marcus Basquez, spokesman for the police department.
Steinberg responded Friday to the DA’s announcement on Twitter, writing “First, I would like to say I appreciate the good work our Sacramento Police officers did Thursday to assure that Sacramento students could safely exercise their right to free speech. ... Regarding the DA’s announcement today, I appreciate her decision not to file charges against Monday night’s peaceful protesters. It was the right thing to do.”
City councilman Jeff Harris, who represents East Sacramento, said the DA’s decision was the right call, but believes there should be prosecutions of individuals if police determine that they committed some of the vandalism.
He walked along at the tail end of the march Monday night, and felt the protest was peaceful, and that the police had shown excellent restraint until the last moment.
“I even texted the chief to tell him I was impressed with the constraint shown by his officers,“ Harris said.
A minute after that text, the arrests began. He was disappointed because he said he felt the rally had wound down and had “burned itself out.“
Authorities can impose certain limits on times and locations of protests, but those limits must be justified, Sims said. The law, he said, “recognizes that we have to put up with a certain degree of inconvenience to let people deliver their message. This is valuable speech – and it is protected.”
Elizabeth Kim, president of the Sacramento chapter of legal observers National Lawyers Guild, was at the protest scene. Two of her members were taken away by police.
“We were relieved to hear” that county prosecutors declined to file formal charges. “We were gearing up to prepare for the worst. I’m concerned with the disconnect that allowed this to happen in the first place.”
“We have never experienced a legal observer being arrested in Sacramento. Historically, legal observers don’t get arrested. It’s just not heard of.”
Kim said the Sacramento guild is also continuing to monitor one woman’s arrest on felony charges out of the protest for allegedly carrying a bicycle lock – a prohibited weapon under criminal statutes. Kim said she was the only one of the 84 taken to jail. The woman posted bond Wednesday and is scheduled to appear March 13 in Sacramento Superior Court. Kim said the guild is fighting to have those charges dropped.
The Rev. Shane Harris, who was arrested Monday night, said the DA’s actions today represent a signal that she understands the 1st Amendment rights of the people who disagree with her decision.
Harris, who runs a national ministry and represents Clark’s fiancée Salena Manni, said he was among those Monday night trying to keep the peace, and that included working with officers on the street.
He said the DA’s decision not to prosecute the two officers was an egregious miscarriage of justice and he thinks the DA is trying, in a small way, to balance the scales by not charging the protesters.
“She knows a lot of people are angry and frustrated, and feeling like her investigation was a backpedaling of justice,” he said. “She is trying to strike a balance here. She is saying she recognizes peoples right to protest. She knows that there was no violence Monday night. That something the police chief needs to understand.”
Stevante Clark, the brother of Stephon Clark, was at the protest Monday night and said he saw a peaceful event. He left before the arrests.
He said the DA’s decision to drop charges made complete sense, although it doesn’t rectify her decision not to file charges her self against the two police officers who killed his brother.
“I feel like they have no charges against the protesters anyway,” he said. “There was nothing there. The DA is trying to show herself in a positive light.”