Crime - Sacto 911

Jurors will decide if Kevin Johnson pie incident was ‘political theater’ or ‘assault’

Sean Thompson’s pie-throwing act of protest at a charity event last September didn’t warrant the bloody beat down he absorbed at the hands of former Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, his attorney argued Tuesday.

Claire White derided the felony assault charge against her client as “an incredibly political choice.”

Jurors now have the case of the pie-throwing activist. They were sworn into deliberations late Tuesday afternoon after hearing closing arguments in Thompson’s assault trial before Sacramento Superior Court Judge Robert Twiss.

White put Johnson’s physical response to his surprise pieing at a Sacramento Charter High School benefit Sept. 21 on trial in her animated closing argument.

“There was a pie, a pause, a wipe and a beating,” White said.

Johnson avoided a defense subpoena and did not testify. Thompson was expected to testify but he, too, did not take the stand.

The benefit, with its guest list of local leaders and celebrities, “provided a theater for Thompson’s stagecraft. The act itself was a political theater. This was a performance. He had a stage prop – pie in hand,” White said.

The weapon of choice, a store-bought coconut cream pie, was taken so seriously, White scoffed, that it had to be retrieved from the trash. One witness originally thought the pieing was a joke and part of the event, she said.

Those thoughts were quickly erased with Johnson’s reaction, the defense lawyer said, taking aim at prosecuting Sacramento County Deputy District Attorney Anthony Ortiz’s version of events.

“The district attorney thinks this is reasonable conduct. He thinks this is a reasonable response,” White said. “In front of children, in this beautiful setting, at this event to bring out the corporates, in front of his mother, he proceeded to beat Mr. Thompson brutally. He beat him so bloody that he had blood on his shirtsleeves.”

Thompson, who served in the U.S. Air Force before becoming joining the Occupy movement and taking part in other local activism, said he planned the pie incident as an act of civil disobedience directed at what he saw as Johnson’s inattention to homelessness in the city.

But Ortiz argued Thompson’s act – not Johnson’s physical reaction to it – was at issue. He called the pie prank a simple case of assault on a public official, even while conceding to jurors that he “struggled” with the issue of how the former mayor responded.

Ortiz depicted an unaware Johnson caught by surprise and an act that crossed the line from protest to criminal act.

“Mayor Johnson is at an event with his wife and his mom in attendance. Kids are there. He has no idea that this is about to happen. Someone comes from behind. He had no idea of whether (the person is) by himself or whether there’s more to come,” Ortiz told jurors. “Can we say that it’s unreasonable? No, (but) that is not what we’re here for.”

Ortiz argued that even if Thompson did not intend to harm Johnson, he still committed a crime, adding that Thompson told a reporter the day after the Oak Park event that he wanted to “embarrass” the mayor by striking him with the pie in a public setting.

“Public prank? Whatever. It’s assault. You were (upset),” Ortiz said, pointing to Thompson before returning to the jury. “You wanted to embarrass this man. Now it’s time to be held accountable.”

Darrell Smith: 916-321-1040, @dvaughnsmith