Crime - Sacto 911

Man accused of hitting Kevin Johnson in face with pie accepts plea deal, avoids jail time

Sean Thompson, who hit Mayor Kevin Johnson in the face with a pie talks to his lawyer, Claire White, after he appeared briefly in Sacramento Superior Court on Oct. 20, 2016 in Sacramento.
Sean Thompson, who hit Mayor Kevin Johnson in the face with a pie talks to his lawyer, Claire White, after he appeared briefly in Sacramento Superior Court on Oct. 20, 2016 in Sacramento. rpench@sacbee.com

Local activist Sean Thompson pleaded no contest to a charge of misdemeanor disturbing the peace Thursday in the case of his 2016 pie attack on former Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, ending months of court hearings and speculation that Johnson would have to take the stand at a second trial.

At a hearing in Sacramento Superior Court, Thompson was sentenced to time served, meaning his case was dismissed after prosecutors accepted the deal of a lesser charge offered by Thompson’s attorneys. Thompson had been charged with misdemeanor assault. A second misdemeanor battery charge also was dismissed.

“We had a really long road to get here,” Thompson’s attorney Claire White said Thursday. “We had been making the offer from the beginning for (disturbing the peace). He didn’t cause any harm to anyone, but he was beaten to a bloody pulp. He’s a civil disobedient who isn’t afraid to take responsibility for his actions.”

Thompson in September 2016 had crammed a coconut cream pie into then-Mayor Johnson’s face at a fundraiser at Sacramento Charter High School in Oak Park. Johnson had responded with a flurry of punches, bloodying Thompson before he was restrained by Johnson’s security detail.

Thompson had maintained his attack on the former mayor was an act of “political theater” to protest what he saw as Johnson’s failure to address homelessness in Sacramento.

Johnson had said he reacted in self-defense. However, Thompson’s attorneys later argued at trial that the former mayor’s response went beyond self-defense and reached the level of “street justice.”

Thompson initially was charged with felony assault and misdemeanor battery on the former mayor. A Sacramento Superior Court jury in May deadlocked at trial on whether Thompson committed those crimes. By June, the Sacramento County District Attorney’s Office had refiled misdemeanor charges against Thompson, to the chagrin of his lawyers who called the new filing a waste of taxpayer money.

Prosecutors on Thursday said the plea deal made sense for both sides at this juncture.

“Our sole objective for this prosecution has been to hold Mr. Thompson accountable for his conduct in assaulting former Mayor Johnson regardless of the ultimate punishment assigned by the court,” Chief Deputy District Attorney Steve Grippi said in a statement. “We are also keenly aware of the practicalities of such a prosecution and the resources necessary to accomplish it.

“At this point in time, we are faced with a victim who does not wish to pursue the case further and a defendant who is willing to accept some measure of responsibility for his actions. The plea agreement provides finality to the incident and allows all parties to move forward with their lives.”

The deal, offered Wednesday evening, White said, came after Johnson and wife Michelle Rhee were handed subpoenas compelling the couple to testify at an impending second trial, and after Thompson’s attorneys announced they planned to argue for the release of a 2007 police report detailing an inquiry into alleged sexual assaults by Johnson against a minor and adult.

Thompson co-counsel Jeffrey Mendelman had said calling upon Johnson to testify about what happened after he was struck with the pie would “bring truth to the courtroom” and “bring into relevance the alleged victim’s credibility.” Mendelman, at the time, added that defense attorneys were eager to present previous allegations of sexual misconduct at a second trial, saying jurors “will get to hear about prior acts and make a determination.”

The Sacramento Bee reported in 2008 that investigators opened the case in May 2007 when a Sacramento High School teacher told police a 17-year-old said that Johnson touched her inappropriately. The report never crossed Sacramento County prosecutors’ desks and no charges were ever filed. A subsequent review by the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department agreed with the police findings that no criminal charges were warranted.

Following the Thursday hearing, White said the subpoenas of Johnson and Rhee, along with the possibility of the report’s release, likely “pushed the DA to do the right thing.”

“As attorneys, we have to pull out every card in the deck for our client,” White said, calling the report a “very powerful tool.”

“When the DA is faced with an alleged victim who could be impeached, it affects the decision,” she said.

Darrell Smith: 916-321-1040, @dvaughnsmith

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