The Sacramento Police Department escalated its response to a Stephon Clark protest in East Sacramento after protesters “keyed” eight cars and blocked the entrance to Mercy General Hospital, Deputy Chief of Police Dave Paletta told the City Council on Tuesday.
Paletta was in charge March 4, when 84 people were arrested, including journalists and clergy members, Police Chief Daniel Hahn said.
Paletta said about 1,600 hours of police bodycam footage that still has to be reviewed, and changes are being made to the way police handle protests in the future.
The police now have “community liaisons,” – community leaders or clergy members associated with protests – they talk to throughout the protest to discuss courses of action, Paletta said. Police are also considering whether to eliminate a threat of “lethal force” during the dispersal order, and giving clear direction to people of how and where they can disperse, Paletta said. Police are also planning to hold meetings with media before protests, and considering other changes to crowd control policies.
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“Legally, we as a police department are given discretion within the law,” Hahn told the council. “In hindsight, we can use that discretion to do things differently that we believe will bring different results in the future when the circumstances are similar to the protest last week.”
Before council members could ask questions, Alexander Clark disrupted the meeting by shouting out from the audience. Clark will be banned from the next City Council meeting, Mayor Darrell Steinberg said before ending the meeting as Clark continued to shout. Clark, who is not related to Stephon Clark, also interrupted a council meeting March 5 and another meeting in January.
“We will reengage this critical conversation with the Police Department, the Office of Public Safety Accountability and the community as soon as possible,” Steinberg said in a statement after the meeting.
Earlier, Paletta briefed council members on the timeline of events during the March 4 protest and how police made their decisions. When protesters were stopped in the roadway on J Street, preventing access to Mercy General Hospital, officials decided to bring in officers from Golden 1 Center, where a Kings game was underway.
When the group returned to Trader Joe’s, the starting point of the protest, police thought they would disperse. When protesters remained and blocked the roadway, police put on their protective gear and called in sheriff’s department and California Highway Patrol officers, Paletta said.
Paletta said officers observed at least eight cars being vandalized, and police helicopters saw a man holding what may have been a flare, which they thought might have been used to set cars on fire.
“We had an overwhelming concern that we were unable to make arrests on those previous incidents … and our fear was that similar crimes were now going to occur in another neighborhood. Our goal was to provide public safety to the affected area,” Paletta said.
Many of the 84 people were arrested on a highway overpass and said they were unable to disperse or get back to their cars because police boxed them in on all sides.
Paletta said the arrests were made on the overpass because that’s where the protesters were when additional staffing arrived.
Francine Tournour, director of the Office of Public Safety Accountability, asked the police to communicate more effectively during protest events and build relationships with community organizers.
“While I am well aware that the chief has always had a movement towards the community being the basis of how the police should do their work, I think that that foundation should be lived and breathed through everybody else in the department that is making the decisions in the chief’s absence,” Tournour said.
The 84 protesters who were arrested will not be charged, the district attorney announced Friday.
The protest was in response to the district attorney’s announcement that the two officers who shot and killed Stephon Clark on March 18, 2018, will not be charged.
The police presentation to the council and the helicopter video from March 4 is available here.