Activist: 'I felt like I needed to do something jarring' to get mayor's attention
The activist who hit Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson in the face with a coconut cream pie last week wants to see all charges dropped because he already received “street justice” when Johnson tackled and punched him, according to his lawyer.
Sean Thompson, 32, had been punished enough by injuries he received during the attack, said his attorney, Claire White, during a Monday news conference. She said Johnson punched Thompson multiple times and sat on him.
Clad in a gray vest and black jeans, Thompson called the pie-tossing “an act of nonviolence” that was intended to “do something jarring in order to get Kevin Johnson’s attention.” He appeared at the Vallejo law office of another attorney on his legal team.
White said Thompson did not intend to physically harm the mayor.
“This was a purely political act,” White said. “There was no intent to injure ... merely to embarrass.”
Appearing Monday at the official unveiling of artwork outside the new Golden 1 Center downtown, Johnson said he did nothing wrong when he punched Thompson.
“When somebody comes up from behind you and slugs you – and in my case you didn’t know what it was at the time and thought it was a punch – you have a right to defend yourself,” he said.
Thompson approached Johnson from behind during a charity dinner Wednesday outside Sacramento Charter High School and smashed a pie in his face. Johnson responded by hitting Thompson in the face, according to witnesses and photos provided to The Sacramento Bee. Thompson was briefly hospitalized before he was taken to jail and said he had nine stitches around his left eye.
He is scheduled to appear in court Tuesday on a felony charge of assaulting a public official and a misdemeanor charge of battery on school property.
When somebody comes up from behind you and slugs you – and in my case you didn’t know what it was at the time and thought it was a punch – you have a right to defend yourself.
Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson
Earlier on Monday, White said Thompson was planning to announce a civil lawsuit against Johnson. During the news conference, she said a lawsuit was “not off the table” – though it wasn’t being pursued immediately.
Thompson was a largely unknown activist in Sacramento before the pie incident generated media coverage far beyond Sacramento. Occupy Sacramento organizer James Lee Clark said Monday that Thompson acted on his own and did not wield his pie on behalf of any larger group.
Thompson said the idea for the pie came from ancient Roman poet Juvenal, who wrote after the end of the Roman Republic, “Two things only the people anxiously desire – bread and circuses.” The phrase “bread and circuses” has become shorthand for government actions meant to appease or distract from problems.
Thompson said he felt local leaders were focusing on construction of Golden 1 Center while ignoring other issues such as homelessness, he said.
“When K.J. pushed and pushed and pushed and finalized the arena, I thought, ‘That’s the final circus,’ ” Thompson said. “To me, he’s the ringleader, and he deserved a pie in the face.”
Thompson is a former Occupy protester who served two years in the U.S. Air Force after graduating from Casa Roble High School in Orangevale. After being discharged from the military after his last posting at Mountain Home Air Force Base in Idaho, Thompson spent a few years wandering the Midwest and West before making his way back to Sacramento in his early 20s.
Thompson said he was inspired to become an activist by a history course he took in 2011 at Sacramento City College taught by professor Sherri Patton.
“It really opened my mind to a new viewpoint on the beginning of America,” he said.
This was a purely political act.
Claire White, lawyer for activist Sean Thompson
Patton remembers Thompson as “very committed and engaged,” she said. “He did seem very aware of things outside the school. Issues of social justice resonated with him.”
During that semester, the Occupy movement started on Wall Street and quickly found footing in Sacramento. Thompson joined at the first meeting. He said he was drawn to Occupy by a desire to address what he perceived as unaccountable politicians, focusing on social justice issues and the environment, he said.
After the Occupy movement dissipated, Thompson, a drought-tolerant landscaper, said he remained committed to political action.
Thompson was being held on $100,000 bail before being bailed out Friday night by local bondswoman Marilyn Young of Knotty Girls Bail Bonds. Young said she decided to pool her own money and that of other supporters to pay for Thompson’s release because she appreciated his stand for free speech.
Thompson will return to court Tuesday and ask for bail to be lowered, White said.
White said she would be happy to pay the mayor’s dry-cleaning bill if it would help to reach a resolution.
Johnson said Monday that it was ironic Thompson chose to launch his pie at the “Seeds of Hope” dinner at Sacramento Charter High School in Oak Park, which was converted by Johnson’s St. Hope organization from a neighborhood public school to a charter school serving a largely African American student body. Students were acting as servers at the fundraising dinner, and Johnson said leftover food was donated to the homeless.
“It was about social justice,” he said.
Johnson chief of staff Crystal Strait said Johnson plans to meet with law enforcement later this week to discuss the case.
“It sounds like this gentleman is trying to extend his 15 minutes of fame,” she said. “We will let law enforcement handle the situation. In my opinion, this is clearly an assault. I think assaulting someone crosses a line (of free speech).”
The Bee’s Tony Bizjak contributed to this report.