Sheriff says deputy probably didn’t realize he’d struck protester at Stephon Clark rally
Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones said the deputy who struck a protester with his patrol car Saturday night probably didn’t realize he was involved in the collision when he drove off.
At a news conference Monday, Jones played dash-cam videos recorded from two marked patrol cars that drove through the protest. After the activist was hit, Jones said, “the deputy continued forward without any apparent indication or awareness” that he hit her.
“There was no audible acknowledgment of any kind,” he said. “There’s a high likelihood that he did not even know that he collided with that protester.”
Jones said he had not spoken with the deputy about the incident. In response to a reporter’s question later about whether he saw the protester, Jones said, “I honestly have no idea.”
The injured woman, activist Wanda Cleveland, was released from a hospital early Sunday morning with bruises to her arm and the back of her head, according to the Sacramento Bee. She contends the collision was a hit-and-run.
Jones said the deputies were on their way to the agency’s South Station to book some evidence after an arrest when they came upon the protest. They had not been involved in briefings leading up to the protest and were using a different radio channel than the one established for the protest.
As the deputies approached the demonstration, protesters spilled into the street, impeding traffic. Both cars turned on their overhead lights as protesters, weaving through traffic, crowded around the first patrol car, waving signs and shouting profanities.
A handful of them briefly stood in front of the car, holding their hands up. One with a bandanna covering his face flipped his middle fingers.
The deputy in the car ordered the group to step away and eventually he passed through. Protesters then swarmed around the driver’s side of the second patrol car. Jones said protesters repeatedly kicked and banged on the car.
Jones said the activist was struck at a low speed and fell to the right.
“Certainly the threat that he was facing was from his left side,” Jones said. “His attention may have been directed there.”
Moments later, the cruiser’s back window was shattered.
The Sheriff’s Department refused to release copies of the recordings, despite playing them at a news conference that was streamed live on its Facebook page.
“They may be in the public’s interest but they are not public records,” Jones said. “I don’t want to create a precedent but I thought in this unique instance it was important to at least allow folks to view them.”
The California Highway Patrol is investigating the incident, and the Sheriff’s Department has begun an internal review.
The injured protester, who regularly attends Sacramento City Council meetings, told the Bee that the patrol vehicle was accelerating and “never even stopped” before hitting her knee and knocking her to the ground.
“It was a hit-and-run. If I did that, I’d be charged,” Cleveland told the paper. “It’s disregard for human life.”
The incident capped a week of demonstrations over the fatal police shooting of Stephon Clark, which heightened long-standing tensions between Sacramento police the and city’s black community and drew national media attention.
Clark, 22, was shot and killed by two Sacramento police officers in his grandmother’s backyard on March 18 during a vandalism investigation. He was found with only a cellphone.
Times staff writer Ruben Vives contributed to this report.
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