Witnesses: Sacramento mayor tackled man who hit him with pie
Posted 5:14 p.m. Thursday
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — A man took a pie from a grocery bag, grabbed Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson from behind and smacked him in the face with the creamy dessert at a charity event, witnesses say, leading the former NBA star to start swinging and then tackle the man who was left with stitches and facing assault charges.
Social justice advocates are concerned Johnson overreacted, sending the pie wielder and local activist, Sean Thompson, 32, to the hospital with bruises and cuts to his eye before he went to jail.
The mayor was greeting people eating at a charity dinner Wednesday night at Sacramento Charter High School when Thompson pulled Johnson back and shoved the pie in his face, said Johnson's chief of staff, Crystal Strait.
"There was no throwing of the pie," said Erika Bjork, who was attending the dinner and saw the encounter up close. "This was a direct assault. It just happened that he had a pie in his hand."
Bjork, who works for a professional soccer team in Sacramento, said the mayor was standing near her when he was hit. She said he looked shocked and swung at the man multiple times, but she didn't see him land any punches.
Johnson then wrestled Thompson to the ground and mayoral staff and a police officer pinned him down, Bjork said. Strait, who agreed with Bjork's account, said the mayor had minor scratches and bruising.
Police arrested Thompson on suspicion of assaulting a public official, which is a felony, police said. It wasn't clear if he had retained an attorney.
Chris Vellucci, who organizes legal support for activists at the National Lawyers Guild in Sacramento, said people in the social justice community are concerned about Thompson's safety and Johnson's physical response.
Vellucci wrote in an email that he met Thompson five years ago and described him as a nonviolent person who participated in some of the first Black Lives Matter protests in Sacramento in 2014 and in Occupy Sacramento rallies before that.
Both police and Strait said Thompson was not previously known to the mayor and his staff. He is scheduled to be formally charged in court Friday afternoon.
The chief of staff said it was a serious and scary situation and there was nothing funny about it, especially because no one, including the mayor, could tell immediately that it was a pie the man was holding.
After cleaning up, Johnson gave another speech to calm nerves at the event, which was held in the school's garden and featured many of the city's top restaurateurs.
Johnson, who had a long career as an NBA All-Star with the Phoenix Suns and a brief stint with the Cleveland Cavaliers, has about two months left as mayor. He decided not to seek a third term.
Johnson's signature achievement in office was getting a $500 million arena built for the city's NBA team, the Sacramento Kings. He is also well-known for his efforts to revitalize Oak Park, a predominantly African-American neighborhood that is being restored during his tenure.
His final two years in office were marked by the re-emergence of a decades-old claim of sexual abuse from a woman who was a teenager when Johnson played for the Suns. The Phoenix Police Department investigated but did not file charges.
Johnson has denied the allegations and that they had anything to do with his decision to leave office.