Jury Deadlocks Monday in Sacramento Pie-Thrower Case

Question Now – Will DA Spend More Tax Dollars to Retry?


Sacramento County Deputy District Attorney Anthony Ortiz – who normally handles murder trials and other serious felonies – tasted defeat of sorts here just before high noon Monday in the “not the trial of the century” case of activist Sean Thompson, accused of pieing ex-Sacramento mayor Kevin Johnson last September in front of 100-plus people at a charter school fundraiser.

After parts of five days of deliberations, with lots of fits and starts, the jury – 9 women and 3 men –  came back with exactly no verdict, no convictions, no guilty votes. The trial began May 1 and Ortiz predicted a slam dunk because, after all, he said that “it was a simple case.”  Not exactly.

Judge Robert Twiss was forced – and he wasn’t happy about it – to declare it a hung jury and a mistrial, when the jury gave up and said it was hopelessly deadlocked on all counts. The parties will see June 8 if the DA wants to retry the case.

In fact, the jurors were in agreement, confided one juror, that Thompson was not guilty of the most serious offense, assault on a public official – a felony which could have landed the military veteran in jail for years. The jurors then couldn’t agree on conviction of three other lesser misdemeanor counts.

Another juror also noted that jurors – at least enough of them – would not convict Thompson of assault or battery because they didn’t think a political prank involving a coconut cream pie rose to that level. They also heard witnesses describe an attack by Johnson, more than a half foot taller than Thompson, that savagely sent the pie thrower – who witnesses said did not fight back – to the hospital.

“It was a sort of street justice,” said pro bono defense counsel Jeffrey Mendelman, who handled the case with co-counsel Claire White, of the Vallejo law firm Morton & Russo. “Jurors may have thought that was enough.”

Mendelman calls the mistrial a “victory for justice,” and praised the jurors for doing their job in the face of a paucity of evidence presented by the DA. Johnson was not called by the DA, and he dodged defense subpoenas for months to avoid testifying.

“Of course we would like to have had a unanimous verdict of not guilty, but we’re pleased with today’s results. We would encourage taxpayers to contact their elected representatives in Sacramento and tell them not to waste any more tax dollars over political theatre, which is what this is,” said Mendelman.

In fact, that will be a major point before June 8. Will the budget-strapped DA spend monies to try again a political activist, who admitted he threw the pie because the former mayor ignored the poor, homeless and most taxpayers – to benefit himself and his wealthy friends?

White, in her closing argument, obviously had an impact on the jury’s thought process, arguing “the wrong man is on trial for the one crime,” suggesting it was Johnson who should be on trial for sending Thompson to the hospital.

Even prosecution witnesses said Thompson was beaten bloody by Johnson who didn’t stop punching even though Thompson didn’t fight back and was in a fetal position on the ground. Johnson only stopped punching Thompson, who was hospitalized, when his own security pulled him off, witnesses said.

But White also focused on seemingly small details necessary to convict Thompson of the felony of assault on a public official in his “official duties.” She said presiding over a private school fundraiser for a nonprofit Johnson was involved in was not “official duties” – at least one juror said that influenced her thinking.

“The fact that jurors are asking questions about what happened, and why Kevin Johnson did not testify or how badly he hurt Sean Thompson is where reasonable doubt resides,” said White several days into jury deliberations. She was right.

Finally, Judge Twiss – after he was forced to call it a mistrial – went on a virtual tirade against Thompson, usually reserved for convicted murderers or other serious criminals. Twiss questioned whether Thompson is “really” a military veteran (he is an Air Force veteran), and suggested he probably hadn’t worked a “day in his life” (he does backbreaking landscape and construction work).

Twiss went on to charge that Thompson was “selfish,” when in fact Thompson admitted he did it for the homeless, including homeless military vets, and the poor and the needy who former mayor Johnson “ignored.” Thompson is known for feeding the hungry and was arrested at  Black Lives Matter and Occupy protests in nonviolent demonstrations.

Twiss also complained about a news report quoting him saying it was a simple assault case that was only being charged as it is because Johnson is a former mayor. Twiss said he didn’t say that, but news reporters and observers said he did. Several jurors also mentioned after the trial that they also believed the DA was tougher on Thompson because of Johnson’s celebrity as a politician.

Twiss, earlier in the trial, did his best to shoot holes in the defense plan – refusing to allow several defenses, character witnesses for Thompson, photographs and other evidence that would help explain what Thompson did and why.

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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27 thoughts on “Jury Deadlocks Monday in Sacramento Pie-Thrower Case”

  1. John Hobbs

    From the judge to Thompson and his attorneys after the jury was dismissed:
    “This has always been a felony because he assaulted a public official. It’s not misdemeanor conduct,” a stern Twiss said from the bench. Twiss added that statements Thompson made after the Sept. 21 incident that his act was not a crime but civil disobedience and that he would do it again if given the opportunity also rankled.

    “The defendant’s behavior is a huge minus. His attitude is that he didn’t do anything wrong. I do not think he has the potential for rehabilitation,” Twiss said. “His attitude toward the criminal justice system is disrespectful. His attitude toward this jury is disrespectful.”

    I concur.

    1. Tia Will

      Agree with Keith that this is a total waste of time and money. Should not have been handled this way in the first place and I certainly hope that we will not be seeing a repeat. I am sure that we have more serious crimes to be dealt with in Sacramento.

  2. John Hobbs

    “Much ado about nothing.  What a waste of time and money”

    Yes, I  almost agree with a Sacbee comment that the  jury should have to pay, in light of their clear violation of their oath. I would be interested to know more about those jurors who chose to disregard the law, their oaths and the judges instructions. Did they lie during voir dire to get on the jury with the sole intent of nullification?

  3. John Hobbs

    ” (he does backbreaking landscape and construction work).”

    Wherever does he find the time, with all of his work on behalf of the homeless? (sarcasm)

    This guy is a four flusher.

  4. Tia Will

    Twiss questioned whether Thompson is “really” a military veteran (he is an Air Force veteran), and suggested he probably hadn’t worked a “day in his life” (he does backbreaking landscape and construction work).”

    Oh my goodness. These are the words of a judge regarding an individual whom is presumed innocent until proven guilty by a jury, and was convicted… of nothing ?  Really ? Where is his dedication to our judicial system. I don’t care what one thinks about the politics, military service, or activism of the defendant. None of this has anything what so ever to do with his guilt or innocence, and it seems that, baselessly, this judge chose to defame a man convicted of nothing because of his personal dislike. Is this really the behavior that we want from our judges?

  5. John Hobbs

    “Should not have been handled this way in the first place”

    Your continuing contempt for the American justice system is apparently contagious.

    The ne’er do well had the option of pleading to a lesser charge and walking with a slap on the wrist. He chose to use the court as a platform to express contempt for the system and the mayor. I think he should have to live with the full weight of that choice.

    “and it seems that, baselessly, this judge chose to defame a man…”

    Based on Thompson’s own behavior and verbiage in the courtroom and out.

    I must question your reading comprehension, good doctor, or do you consider the laws, rules and codes of conduct regarding medical practice merely advisory and optional as well?


    1. Tia Will


      Do you believe in one of the fundamental principles of our judicial system which you believe that I am disparaging ” innocent until proven guilty” ? You will note that I said nothing at all about the character of this man. It is you that have decided to pass judgement on him seemingly based on what you have read in the media.  Unless of course you happen to know him personally. Do you ?

  6. David Greenwald Post author

    I’m still at the point of wondering exactly why the throwing of the pie is considered a felony assault.  Did Johnson suffer injuries?

    And was his response disproportionate to the threat that the defendant posed to him…

    1. Don Shor

      I was on a jury trial where we really, really wanted to find the guy guilty of something. Stupidity, for example. But in our opinion, the prosecutor overcharged him, and the evidence didn’t seem to merit the charge. So we had to find him not guilty. It’s a binary choice. We, the jurors, didn’t have any discretion to find him guilty of a lesser charge. So blaming the jurors in this case is off base. The decision was made by the prosecutor, and the jurors worked with what they were given.

    2. John Hobbs

      Read the criminal code, David. It is in place to prevent anarchy. Assault on an elected official is and should be a felony. The mayors response was proportional because he had no way of knowing that this attacker had just hit him with a pie, He was hit in the face. blinded and so defended himself until his assailant was no longer a threat. Maybe Mr Thompson should have given some thought to the fact that his intended victim was a former NBA all-star, who, in my opinion and that of the several eyewitnesses I’ve spoken to, was well restrained in his response.

      1. Keith O

        He was hit in the face. blinded and so defended himself until his assailant was no longer a threat. 

        Johnson was a very accurate puncher for being blinded.


      2. David Greenwald

        I know the criminal code well on self-defense.

        First, he had to reasonably believe that he was in danger of great bodily injury.

        Second, he had to reasonably believed that the immediate use of force was necessary to defend against that danger

        Third, he had to have used no more force than was reasonably necessary to defend against that danger.

        He was not in danger of great bodily injury, the pie was a one-time “attack” and he used far more force than necessary after the guy was not a threat.

      1. David Greenwald

        If you read the law on self-defense, he has to be responding to an imminent and immediate threat and it has to be enough force that a reasonable person would conclude was sufficient to stop the attack but no more.

        In this case, by the time he was punching the guy, the “attack” was over and the response was disproportionate so a self-defense claim fails on both counts.

  7. John Hobbs

    Maybe this is a cultural thing. If attacked from ambush in Davis, is one supposed to lay down in a submissive position and pray to avoid further injury? Lol.

  8. John Hobbs


    Great shot David, did you get one after they washed his face off? At least you don’t feign objectivity on this matter. I realize that you dislike the mayor and like many of his detractors can’t separate the person from the position. That seems counterproductive for someone in your position, but that might almost be said to be part of your journalistic style. That being said, this case is exactly as the judge characterized it. Let’s see where you come down on the subject when a jury nullification frees someone you think is guilty and dangerous.

    1. David Greenwald

      Actually you’ve jumped to several assumptions.  First, I have nothing against Kevin Johnson.  Second, I didn’t write this article, I’m simply a commenter here.  I don’t agree with you that this is jury nullification – you’ve ignored the fact that the jury weighed in on the question whether the mayor was carrying out his official duties, they decided he was not and they also decided that the conduct here did not rise to felony conduct.

  9. John Hobbs

    “…they also decided that the conduct here did not rise to felony conduct.”

    That was jury nullification.

    Gawd, for your sake I hope the rest of Davis isn’t so naive. I think I was 25 when I took the che poster off the wall and grew up. This miscreant is …


    1. David Greenwald

      I just interviewed the attorney for Thompson, and she says there is no case law that she could find of a person charged as a felony for pieing a public official.  She also said that statute is a wobbler, not a straight felony.

    2. David Greenwald

      “Assault on a public official is a “wobbler” offense that can be charged as either a felony or a misdemeanor, depending on factors such as the severity of the attack, the criminal history of the defendant and the circumstances surrounding the incident. If charged and convicted of this offense as a felony, the defendant can be sentenced to up to three years in prison. If filed as a misdemeanor, the maximum penalty is a year in jail.”

      So there it is.

  10. John Hobbs

    “So there it is.”

    Yes exactly what I have been saying. Had the miscreant pled guilty and offered any sort of apology, no doubt we would all be spared this farce, but he and his attorneys have a “cause” that they can use to justify his assault. They CHOSE to put on the play. The DA had little choice but to prosecute the FACTUAL crime. I find it ironic that you claim not to dislike KJ and I have written countless posts arguing against the arena and the mayor’s priorities. I never voted for him. I never once thought about running up on him and shoving something in his face, but then I’m not a narcissistic terrorist.

    1. David Greenwald Post author

      No what you stated was “Assault on an elected official is and should be a felony.”

      That’s not true, it’s a wobbler.

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