Sacramento's first black police chief aims to heal embattled department
The city of Sacramento is withholding video footage from a July 9 incident in which a pregnant woman claims she was thrown to the ground by a Sacramento Police Department officer outside her home.
Police spokesman Sgt. Bryce Heinlein said the department is conducting an internal investigation into the incident and that at least a portion of it was captured on a body-worn camera. The investigation began after Zityrua Abraham, the woman who says she was grabbed by the officer, came to the department to file a complaint, he said.
In a response to a Public Records Act request filed by The Sacramento Bee, the City Clerk’s Office, which processes the requests, said the city has a right to keep investigatory records confidential and that withholding the video footage from public view outweighs the public’s interest in disclosure.
“In speaking specifically with the police department, we are not going to release information if it could create a problem with an investigation,” said Wendy Klock-Johnson, the city’s assistant city clerk.
Abraham was seven months into her pregnancy when she says Sacramento Police Department officers swarmed into her apartment complex on the 800 block of Lampasas Avenue, guns drawn, looking for an auto theft suspect.
Afraid, she moved to go inside her home where her young son was sleeping. That’s when one of the officers grabbed her by the arm, twisted her around and threw her on the ground, she said in late July.
“I told him I was pregnant and it was wrong,” Abraham told reporters. “No cop said, ‘I’m sorry.’ ”
The officers were at the apartment complex after stopping a woman who was in a stolen vehicle and learning that a male suspect may have been involved, Heinlein said. Officers headed to Lampasas Avenue, where they believed he was located, and saw someone who matched the suspect’s description ducking into one of the apartments.
“A female steps in front of the door and prevents the officers from pursuing the suspect,” Heinlein said of the incident. “An officer moved her out of the way and that’s when she possibly tripped or fell to the ground.”
Abraham said the man police thought was the suspect was her mother’s boyfriend, who was going inside her home to get water when police arrived. Officers kicked down the door, guns still drawn, and grabbed her mom’s boyfriend. After searching the house, police said they had the wrong home and walked out, Abraham said.
“I asked for badge numbers,” she said. “No cop cooperated, they just walked away.”
The male suspect in the carjacking case has still not been found and is also wanted on a prior felony warrant, Heinlein said. The woman who was initially found in the stolen vehicle was arrested but released before being booked into the Sacramento County Main Jail due to medical complications, he said.
Abraham said she’s been to the doctor, but medical staff are unable to tell if her unborn son was injured in the incident.
“I’m stressed on the fact that I don’t know (what’s) actually going to happen to him,” she said.
The Abraham video is not covered by the city’s police video-release policy that City Council passed last November.
Under that policy, the city must release video within 30 days of officer-involved fatalities, in-custody deaths and incidents in which a complaint is filed with the Office of Public Safety Accountability. But the city can withhold footage that officials believe will “hamper, impede or taint” an investigation, Klock-Johnson said.
Francine Tournour, director for the city’s Office of Public Safety Accountability, said her office will audit the department’s internal investigation once the police department has completed it. She said because the complaint was not filed directly to her office, the video release policy would not apply. The chief of police could choose to release the video at his discretion once certain portions of the investigation are completed, she added.
The Sacramento chapter of Black Lives Matter called on the police department to release a similar set of video files during a news conference on July 27.
Linda Tucker, a spokeswoman for the city, said the City Clerk’s Office typically determines what documents are released “in conjunction with the police department and the city attorney” when requests involve police records. The City Clerk’s Office declined to say whether any officers have been reprimanded in connection to the claim.