Prosecutors on Thursday dropped a controversial “lynching” charge against a 20-year-old Sacramento woman in what may be the last time such a case is addressed in a California courtroom.
Maile Hampton, who, prosecutors said, resisted arrest and attempted to pull a friend out of police custody at a January protest, has become the face of a debate around the wording of a 1933 law created to protect black detainees from angry white mobs.
California’s so-called lynching law has been used over the past five years by agencies across the state to prosecute protesters and activists who are suspected of trying to free each other from police custody.
But, when the Sacramento County District Attorney’s Office dismissed the charge against Hampton on Thursday, District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert wrote in her motion that accusing Hampton, a biracial woman, of lynching was “racially charged and inflammatory.”
Hampton’s case, which has been held up as an injustice by activists who have packed City Hall and each of Hampton’s court appearances, caught the attention of Mayor Kevin Johnson in January. He called Sen. Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, seeking to change the language of the law. Mitchell agreed.
That change was expected to be enacted Friday.
But Hampton’s lawyer, Linda Parisi, told The Sacramento Bee that removing one potentially offensive word doesn’t fix the problem of the law.
“I think we need to use that charge, regardless of what it’s called, as the legislative history intended it to be used,” Parisi said. “If someone was in lawful custody a mob should not try to release them and do them harm. The legislative intent was that people should be protected from mob violence. That’s how the charge should be used regardless of the name we give it.”
In most other cases where lynching charges have been brought against protesters – several activists involved in the Occupy movement across the state have been charged with the crime in recent years – the charges were ultimately dropped.
Parisi said she was “very pleased” the district attorney dismissed the lynching charge in this case but noted she and Hampton would be back in court May 21 to answer to a remaining misdemeanor charge of resisting arrest.
Hampton was part of a Jan. 18 protest against police use of force. Sacramento police spokesman Doug Morse has said Hampton’s group was walking on Capitol Mall and had been told to move to the sidewalk. Officers detained those who resisted, but as they made arrests, other marchers tried to pull their fellow protesters away.
Police later identified Hampton as one of those who had tried to free marchers and issued a warrant for her arrest, Morse said. She spent one day in jail after police arrested her at home.
On Wednesday, Hampton joined more than 100 others on Florin Road to show solidarity with demonstrations in Baltimore and protest the in-custody death of Freddie Gray and national instances of police violence.
Call The Bee’s Marissa Lang at (916) 321-1038. Follow her on Twitter at @Marissa_Jae. The Bee’s Hector Amezcua contributed to this report.