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Police Monitor Says Stephon Clark Demonstrators In East Sacramento May Have Thought They Were 'Free To Go' Before Arrests

Andrew Nixon / Capital Public Radio

More than 80 people were arrested by Sacramento police following a protest in East Sacramento.

Andrew Nixon / Capital Public Radio

The city’s police monitor says demonstrators at last week’s Stephon Clark protest in East Sacramento may not have realized they were breaking the law in the moments before officers arrested 84 people.

“Protesters were under the impression that, if they left the intersection of 51st and Folsom, they were to free to go, and that was not the case,” said Francine Tournour, who heads the city’s Office of Public Safety and Accountability.

She presented her department’s independent findings from the incident Tuesday, telling council members that the “onus of the lack of clarity on this information … falls squarely on the shoulders of the police department.”

Sacramento police also presented its case for why officers arrested 84 people. Deputy Chief Dave Peletta gave an overview of the March 4 incident, when a large group of demonstrators marched through East Sacramento, including the wealthy “Fab 40s” neighborhood, to protest the district attorney's decision not to prosecute the officers who shot and killed Clark.

He called the demonstration “different” than “more than 200” protest events in the past year. Eight cars were vandalized during the march, most of them scratched by keys, he said, and there were at least two heated verbal confrontations with residents. Peletta also said that demonstrators ignored 30 orders to disperse.

When people kept walking in the streets and protesting even though organizers had ended the march, Peletta said the “fear was that similar crimes were now going to occur in another neighborhood.”

The deputy chief said demonstrators walked down 51st Street on their own, and were not forced that direction by law enforcement.

A group of demonstrators eventually crossed onto a bridge over Highway 50, where police arrested 84 people for unlawful assembly, including clergy, students and two journalists.

Activists claim the protest was peaceful, and that police did not give them an opportunity to leave the area.

On Friday, District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert declined to file charges against those arrested.  

Following the arrests, Mayor Darrell Steinberg said he was "very concerned and troubled by what happened," and called for the investigation into the department's handling of the protest by the Office of Public Safety Accountability.

The mayor asked Tournour to look into seven questions around the arrests, including how the order for protesters to disperse was given, whether or not people were able to leave once orders to disperse were given, and what the distinction between the public and the press is during protests.

At Tuesday’s meeting Tournour said that when a demonstration has to do with police distrust, “special consideration and patience should be given prior to taking enforcement action, so that any action that is taken is not interpreted as retaliatory or a form of intimidation.”

Her office found that “the police department had already made the decision to arrest the protestors prior to them reaching the bridge” above Highway 50.

She added that her office would be reviewing whether law enforcement tactics or equipment “exacerbated fears,” and if the police presence was “commensurate with threat” presented by demonstrators.

The police department’s review of the incident is ongoing according to City Manager Howard Chan, and there are still more than 1,600 hours of law enforcement body-camera footage to review.

Before Tuesday’s presentation, Chief Daniel Hahn spoke to council and said it was not his “intention to arrest members of the media, or pastors … much less the numbers of arrests that occurred last week.”

He also praised the “professionalism” of officers on the front lines during demonstrations.

The mayor and council members did not have a chance to ask Peletta or Tournour questions about the demonstration, however: The meeting adjourned early after a member of the public, Alexander Clark — who is unrelated to Stephon Clark, but who has disrupted previous meetings — cursed at the mayor and refused to leave after Steinberg called for him to be ejected.

Following the meeting, Steinberg tweeted the council will take up the issue again "as soon as possible."

Editor's note: The headline has been updated to clarify the city police monitor's statement.

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