Marcos Bretón

Think retrying the ‘pie guy’ is a waste of taxpayer money? You’re wrong and here’s why

The guy who rammed a pie in the face of former Mayor Kevin Johnson is headed back to the courtroom and rightly so. It’s just a shame that deportation to another city can’t be a potential punishment for Sean Thompson.


The self-described homeless advocate will be tried in August for a misdemeanor assault of Johnson after his felony trial for assault ended in a hung jury in May.

This silly and sordid episode started in September, when Thompson crashed a fundraiser Johnson was hosting at Sacramento Charter High School in Oak Park. As underprivileged kids looked on, Thompson surprised Johnson and shoved a banana cream pie in his face. Witnesses said Thompson hit Johnson hard with the pie. Johnson swung back with his fists and Thompson was arrested.

If this were any other politician, Thompson probably would be in jail right now. But because it was Johnson, and because Johnson attracted controversy – and unhinged detractors – throughout his eight years as Sacramento’s mayor, this straight assault case became a circus, with Thompson’s legal team looking to subpoena Johnson as a witness to add to the spectacle.

Thompson has said the pieing was meant to call attention to Johnson’s not doing enough to help homeless people. “Mr. Thompson is a civil disobedient,” his attorney Claire White said Thursday. “He has never claimed anything otherwise.”

On face value, retrying Thompson is absurd, a waste of time and taxpayer money. But it is necessary, if only because this guy did something so corrosive – attacking someone – and has not only been unrepentant, he’s actually enjoyed the subsequent spotlight.

Thompson has argued that what he did was political theater. But if you reduce his actions to their elements, here’s what you get: Thompson used physical violence to humiliate another human being. When is that ever OK?

Meanwhile, the judge in Thompson’s first trial pegged him correctly: “The defendant’s behavior is a huge minus,” said Sacramento Superior Court Judge Robert Twiss in May after the felony trial was hung by two jurors who didn’t get what Thompson did. “His attitude is that he didn’t do anything wrong. I do not think he has the potential for rehabilitation. His attitude toward the criminal justice system is disrespectful. His attitude toward this jury is disrespectful.”

So I’m alright, as a taxpayer, with footing the bill for another trial. Not refiling charges would have been a greater injustice and would have sent the wrong message about how we should speak, argue and protest in our city. Thompson could have ended this long ago by apologizing or owning up to what he did. If you want to be mad at anyone over wasted tax dollars, be mad at him.

In the end, a jury of his peers may acquit him. Maybe they’ll see the reduced misdemeanor charge as fitting or Thompson’s “once in jeopardy” plea will work. When it’s over, maybe he’ll move onto his next stunt. Or maybe he won’t. Maybe some jail time will cure him. Or maybe we’ll all get lucky and he’ll move.

Thompson has been part of a collection of people who regularly attend City Council meetings and instead of arguing civilly for their cause, which is homelessness, they curse and scream and belittle and berate city staff and elected officials.

Like Thompson, none of this ranting accomplishes anything but demeaning other people. These acts are not righteous, funny or theatrical. On most days, they are offensive. And one day last fall, they were criminal. To tweak a phrase: Lock him up.

Marcos Bretón: 916-321-1096, @MarcosBreton

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