Sean Thompson, 32, explains why he threw a pie at Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson. Randall Benton The Sacramento Bee
Sean Thompson, 32, explains why he threw a pie at Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson. Randall Benton The Sacramento Bee

Local

Man who hit mayor with pie says it was ‘least violent action I could take’

By Ryan Lillis and Ellen Garrison

rlillis@sacbee.com

September 21, 2016 09:45 PM

The man who hit Kevin Johnson in the face with a coconut cream pie Wednesday night said he told the Sacramento mayor before the attack that “he has to do better to represent the people.”

In an interview at the Sacramento County jail Thursday afternoon, Sean Thompson, 32, said for the past eight years, the mayor has focused his actions mainly on the new arena and the strong-mayor initiative.

“He had a lot of opportunities to help people and he hasn’t taken any of them,” Thompson said.

Johnson was hit in the face with a pie at a benefit dinner at Sacramento Charter High School, and got into a brief physical altercation with his assailant.

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“Let me be clear, the mayor was assaulted,” said Johnson spokeswoman Crystal Strait.

Thompson said that he has been an activist for four years, he has been arrested multiple times and always remained peaceful but said he felt like he hasn’t accomplished much.

Asked why he resorted to a violent act, Thompson said, “Pie throwing was the least violent action I could take.”

Thompson, 32, was arrested on a felony charge of assaulting a public official and misdemeanor charge of battery on school property, according to the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department’s website. He was booked into the Sacramento County Jail at midnight.

In a booking photo released by the Sacramento Police Department, Thompson appeared to have two sets of stitches around his left eye.

“During the assault, the subject sustained a minor injury and was transported by the Sacramento Fire Department to a local hospital for treatment,” the police statement said.

Strait said the mayor was talking to dinner guests when a man approached him from the side, grabbed him by the arm, yanked him off balance and slammed a pie into his face.

“He brought (the pie) with him. He pulled it out of a bag,” she said.

Appreciate everyone. I'm doing fine. Thank you to Sac PD for being there. Be safe everyone.

— Kevin Johnson (@KJ_MayorJohnson) September 22, 2016

Asked if he would do it again, Thompson said, “Absolutely. I would do it twice.”

Johnson’s glasses were knocked from his face, said Erika Bjork, a witness who was a few feet away when the incident occurred.

Bjork said she was sitting at a table at the event as Johnson and his wife, Michelle Rhee, approached to greet guests seated near her. She said Johnson was talking to a couple across the table from her and was about to pose for a photograph when he was struck.

Bjork, a spokeswoman for Sacramento Republic FC who was attending the event on the club’s behalf, said Thompson did not say anything to the mayor before the incident.

Johnson confronted Thompson and the pair “scuffled in the dirt,” Bjork said. She said she saw Johnson swing his arm, but that “there was not a bunch of punches thrown. He struck back in some way. This was not like some bloody punch-fest.” Strait confirmed that Johnson hit Thompson.

The mayor’s security guard, a Sacramento police officer, and others jumped into the scuffle. Thompson was handcuffed by the security guard and restrained for a few minutes until more police officers and a fire truck arrived, Bjork said.

Strait said a member of the mayor’s staff also intervened and received a minor injury.

Sgt. Bryce Heinlein, a Sacramento police spokesman, said Johnson was questioned by police officers on the scene. He said the full report – including Johnson’s statement and witness accounts – will be forwarded to the District Attorney’s Office.

Heinlein said he does not expect Johnson to be charged “based on witness statements and the totality of the circumstances.” He said the mayor was “taken by surprise by the assault.”

Strait said Johnson didn’t realize he was being hit with a pie. “The mayor just felt he was being punched in the face,” she said.

“Let me be clear, the mayor was assaulted tonight,” Strait said Wednesday night. “He is home with his family…The whole thing is just shocking.”

Bjork said many of the roughly 200 guests at the event were not aware of what happened until several minutes later.

Johnson was given a sweatshirt to change into. After the mayor and Rhee spoke with police, Johnson addressed the audience. UFC fighter Urijah Faber was in attendance, and Bjork said Johnson jokingly asked “Where were you, man?” Johnson then posed for a group photograph with many of the students and chefs who attended the event.

The incident has sparked strong opinions online, with some arguing that Johnson overreacted to a form of political theater used against public figures and others applauding the mayor for defending himself in swift fashion.

In 1998, then-San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown was struck by cherry, pumpkin and tofu pies while giving a speech. Three pie-throwers from the Biotic Baking Brigade were arrested and later sentenced to six months in jail for committing misdemeanor battery. The protesters said they were opposed to police sweeps of the homeless in downtown San Francisco. In that incident, Brown sprained an ankle while tackling one of the pie-throwers.

In 2011, a comedian attempted to shove a shaving-cream pie in the face of News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch as Murdoch testified before British Parliament. Murdoch’s wife at the time, Wendi Deng, famously interceded and threw a punch at the protester, winning praise from members of Parliament soon after. The protester, Jonathan May-Bowles, received a reduced four-week sentence, according to BBC News.

Appreciate everyone. I'm doing fine. Thank you to Sac PD for being there. Be safe everyone.

— Kevin Johnson (@KJ_MayorJohnson) September 22, 2016

The Johnson incident happened at about 6:45 p.m. at Sacramento Charter High School, which Johnson attended when it was a traditional school and helped transform into an independent charter school last decade.

The high school is in Oak Park on 34th Street.

The mayor and a number of the city’s top chefs were there Wednesday night for the Seeds of HOPE Harvest Dinner, a fundraiser, in the high school’s garden. The event highlights local produce and involves students in preparing the meal.

Chef Patrick Mulvaney, a leader in the city’s farm-to-fork movement, said he was at the dinner but didn’t see the altercation. Other notable chefs at the event included Billy Zoellin of Bacon and Butter and Kurt Spataro of Paragary’s.

Spataro’s wife, Kitty O’Neal, said her husband came home from the dinner and said, “You won’t believe what happened. Somebody … crashed the party and threw a cream pie into the mayor’s face.”

She said her husband told her Johnson was covered in whipped cream and that the mayor’s wife, Michelle Rhee, helped him clean him up and was visibly shaken the rest of the evening.

“Kurt saw Kevin punch,” O’Neal said, “but said he did not see an ambulance and saw no blood.”

Johnson was traveling Thursday to Washington, D.C., for the opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Mayor-elect Darrell Steinberg, who was attending a press conference at the Crest Theatre Thursday morning, said he doesn’t know what he would do if the same thing happened to him.

As a public official, “you sign up for a lot, but you don’t sign up for this,” Steinberg said. “It’s a pretty scary thing to see someone coming at you.”

Johnson was involved in one of the NBA’s most famous on-court brawls when he played for the Phoenix Suns. In 1993, a record 21 players were fined after a melee between the New York Knicks and Suns. Johnson was sucker-punched by Knicks player Greg Anthony, who ran onto the court in street clothes and received the biggest fine of $20,500. Johnson received a $15,000 fine for sparking the fight by throwing a forearm at Rivers.

In a Facebook post on Friday, a person who appears to be Thompson wrote: “Mayor Kevin Johnson is a retired basketball player, and all he’s done for our community is rub elbows with the upper class, and build an expensive arena on the taxpayers dime. Also, she (sic) has some questionable sexual exploits.”

In a video on SacCityExpress.com by L.T. Clayton, Thompson said he had been arrested three times as a member of the Occupy movement, a protest against social inequality that began about 2011. Jail records indicate that a charge of failure to disperse was dismissed against Thompson.

Thompson was among the first released from jail in October 2011 after Occupy arrests. He joined the crowd of protesters before 10:30 a.m. outside the jail as they chanted slogans like “Peace and love.” Many marchers were carrying signs, such as “For those incarcerated, thank you for your courage.”

Thompson said he didn’t know why he was released earlier than most, and said the arrests should not have happened. “It was stupid, it was unnecessary. Was I treated well? Not at all.”

While in jail, he said on the video recorded several years ago, he did not enjoy his time while incarcerated. He complained about being ordered about, a lack of food and unsanitary conditions in jail cells.

Thompson said he did not want to be arrested again: “Jail sucks,” he said.

He also spoke about Johnson.

“He spoke out about us twice, saying he supports police,” in enforcing a nighttime anti-camping ordinance for city parks, Thompson said.

Thompson said that the council and Johnson were against them. He said the city’s elected officials did not really hear the words of the Occupy movement.

“There are a large group of people in this nation who feels they are oppressed,” Thompson said. “I want to fight for everybody.”

Andrew Blaskovich, owner of the Drewski’s food truck, said he hired Thompson last year to draw a sidewalk panel at the annual Chalk it Up event in Fremont Park. Blaskovich’s dog, Rex, had been killed a few weeks earlier during a break-in at his home. Thompson drew a picture of the dog with the phrases: “RIP Rex” and “JusticeForRex.”

“He didn’t seem like he would hurt a fly,” Blaskovich said of Thompson. “When I told him my dog had been killed, he turned white and said it was the worst thing he’d ever heard. The guy was super cool, super chill. I didn’t think he would put a pie in the puss of our mayor.”

The mayor gave his last State of the City address to a packed auditorium at the Crest Theatre, January 27, 2016. Ellen GarrisonThe Sacramento Bee

Nashelly Chavez, Jessica Hice, Bill Lindelof and Richard Chang contributed to this report. Ryan Lillis: 916-321-1085, @Ryan_Lillis