During a press conference Monday that was broadcast live via the department’s Facebook page, Sacramento County, Calif., Sheriff Scott Jones addressed the deputy-involved hit-and-run accident that left activist Wanda Cleveland, 61, injured Saturday night.
The incident took place at the site of an otherwise peaceful protest over the shooting of 22-year-old Stephon Clark, who was killed by two Sacramento Police Department officers in his grandparents’ backyard March 18.
Jones described Saturday’s protest as a “mostly peaceful exercise” with “little incident” and no arrests.
“Unfortunately at many protests that have developed to this scope, there are professional protesters and professional instigators that infiltrate the protests for their own purposes, as well as participants from out of the region that inflame and antagonize the event,” Jones said. “The results oftentimes are actions that cause undue scrutiny on the protesters’ cause, their methods, message and actions—and law enforcement.
“That is what happened here, which culminated in many vehicles being struck, objects being thrown and fires being started,” Jones added.
Jones said that the Sheriff’s Department and “really all of law enforcement” support and defend the right of citizens “to peaceably assemble and protest”—adding that they would do everything in their power to enable that right and keep everyone safe.
“When the exercise of rights transitions from the mere inconvenience of others to impacting their rights—whether it be property getting destroyed, crimes being committed or someone’s safety being jeopardized, whether it’s the public, the protesters themselves or my officers—the Sheriff’s Department must and will intervene,” Jones said.
Jones also said that the traffic collision occurred in an isolated area, away from the main protest site, where the type of lawlessness he previously described was taking place.
Jones then showed in-car video from both sheriff’s-deputy vehicles—including the vehicle that struck Cleveland.
Jones narrated the videos and said that the two deputies, driving separate vehicles, were on their way back to the station to book evidence and property after making an arrest. He made it clear that the deputies were not involved in the protest, were not on the same radio channel established for the protest, and were not involved in any of the planning or debriefings that occurred throughout the day in anticipation of the protests.
When the deputies got to Florin Road and Stockton Boulevard, they encountered protesters in the median as well as on the left side of the street.
Jones said that once the deputies turned on their overhead lights, protesters surrounded their vehicles and impeded them from moving forward.
The deputy in the first vehicle gave commands for the crowd to get away from his vehicle, and eventually they did, allowing him to pass. As the second vehicle moved forward to follow the first one, a protester could be seen walking right in front of the deputy as he started to move forward. The vehicle appeared to strike the protester, and the deputy continued to move forward, following the first vehicle.
Jones said it was likely that the deputy was not aware that he had hit the protester.
Jones said that the California Highway Patrol will be investigating the incident. The Sheriff’s Department will conduct an internal investigation.
In a statement Sunday, Sheriff’s Department spokesman Sgt. Shaun Hampton said that the incident happened after a crowd kicked and pounded on the deputy’s vehicle.
“The Sheriff’s Department vehicle sustained scratches, dents and a shattered rear window,” Hampton said. “The damage to the vehicle was not a result of the collision involving the pedestrian but was caused by vandals in the crowd.”
Wanda Cleveland suffered bruising to her arm and the back of her head. She was released after midnight Saturday.
Asked about the professional agitators he mentioned at the beginning of his press conference, Jones backpedaled a bit and said:
Well, I don’t want to get too far remote on that subject, but we do know because of our intelligence, because of the same folks that we see at protests completely out of the area, and because of our history with some of these folks, that there are paid protesters and paid people to instigate—just as there are paid folks that monitor protests and video camera for their own purposes.
Asked directly if he believed Cleveland was a paid protester, Jones said, “I don’t know. I’m not involved in that investigation, so I’m assuming … hoping that she will cooperate with the California Highway Patrol in their investigation of this instance, and perhaps all that can be vetted at that time.”
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