A ‘Mea Culpa’ It Wasn’t

Sacramento Police Reasons for Arresting 84 on 51st Street Bridge Differ Greatly from View of Legal Observers, Clergy and Reporters

By Crescenzo Vellucci
Vanguard Sacramento Bureau

SACRAMENTO – Well, it wasn’t exactly a “mea culpa.”

The city of Sacramento Police “brass” – in a half-hearted presentation to the Sacramento City Council Tuesday night – gave the reasons it felt that 84 people had to be arrested a week ago Monday at an otherwise peaceful protest after the County District Attorney failed to charge the police officers who shot unarmed Stephon Clark

The SPD’s version conflicted greatly with witnesses and media reports, as well as those arrested including clergy, working reporters and trained National Lawyers Guild legal observers.

Deputy Chief of Police Dave Paletta, who confessed he was in charge March 4, said police moved in and arrested 84 people – they actually arrested 85, but released a Sacramento Bee reporter after he spent an hour in handcuffs – because cars had reportedly been vandalized and a chopper saw someone with what appeared to be a flare.

That statement differs greatly from clergy, activists, legal observers and media who said the protest was basically over when police ordered people to disperse. And as people were leaving, police moved in from three sides forcing most – some saw activists jump over fences to get out of the police dragnet – to flee down 51st Street and across the 51st Street Bridge.

However, rather than being allowed to continue home from there, law enforcement moved in with horses, California Highway Patrol, sheriff’s deputies and SPD to arrest all of them.

SPD never explained if they really believed reporters and clergy, let alone NLG legal observers, were really suspects in a crime.

“We had nowhere to disperse except where they directed us,” was the common complaint of those arrested, who were held on the bridge in tight plastic handcuffs and then transported hours later to Cal Expo to be processed before being released.

Paletta also said protestors “blocked” the entrance to Mercy Hospital, but this reporter observed only that protestors stopped briefly on a street adjacent to the hospital to chant and that that SPD blocked the street with a dozen or more vehicles and more than 100 militarized police.

In fact, when an ambulance appeared, straggling protestors quickly moved out of the way.

This reporter was lucky – a SPD officer recognized him as working press and didn’t arrest him as he and others in the crowd of demonstrators and observers were herded down 51st Street and onto the bridge.

Reporters for the Bee, Sacramento Business Journal and Sacramento State Hornet were not as lucky. The Bee reporter was released unarrested, but the other two working press were processed.

This reporter observed that people were not demonstrating but attempting to get out of the area, as ordered by SPD. They were complying. But they were trapped with nowhere to go when baton-wielding police pushed them into bushes, buildings and down the street – a Bee photographer was shoved to the ground and his equipment damaged.

Paletta also said that more than 1,000 hours of police body camera recordings were being reviewed, adding that the police have clergy or community leaders now who will help during mass protests.

However, many of those clergy and leaders – who had been working with SPD for months in anticipation of protests – were those who were arrested last Monday, destroying, some of those leaders are now saying, any trust in SPD.

Also Tuesday, Councilmember Allen Warren criticized police and County DA Anne Marie Schubert.

Warren’s letter “We Can Do Better” talked about police killings of Black people, and he referenced his own experiences growing up in Sacramento where police in Sacramento disrespected the “lives of Black people.” He talked about the “tragedies” in “our communities” when people are killed by insensitive police.

Monday night, frustrated members of the Sacramento Community Police Review Commission wouldn’t comment when asked if the commission was accomplishing anything in light of a directive by the city council to limit their investigations into police actions.

The commission did approve unanimously a motion to recommend the City Council support AB 392, which would revise use of force policies by police statewide. It would require, absent good cause, law enforcement to use non-lethal force and de-escalation before resorting to lethal force.

State law now allows police to use lethal force as they choose – the law goes back to 1872 and is the oldest use of force law in the nation, said Assemblymember Shirley Weber (D-San Diego), one of bill’s authors.

In fact, the review commission urged the city council adopt its own version of AB 392 now.

Assemblymember Kevin McCarty (D-Sacramento), a co-author, maintained the measure is “reasonable” and other cities are using it now as policy, saving lives.

Commission member Mario Guerrero, a former Marine, led the support for the legislation, describing it as “making sense” and maintaining that “use of force by police is a policy management decision” that the city council can legally tackle.

Audience member Tanya Faison, co-founder of Black Lives Matter Sacramento, spoke directly to the consequences of current SPD use of force, naming (Capt.) Norm Leong as overseeing last Monday’s arrests. “There’s been a lot of violence on his watch,” she said.

And longtime civil rights campaigner Betty Williams of the Sacramento Chapter of the NAACP challenged claims by SPD that there were “no racial profiling complaints” over the most recent year of reporting, calling it “ridiculous.”

A police spokesperson responded that they had no “official complaints,” they had numerous unofficial complaints, which they deem only to be “inquiries,” so they are not reported.

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1 Comment

  1. Bob Saunders

    First Amendment Rights threatened by police use of an abuse of power and an abuse of authority.
    Their job is to enforce the law within the limits of the law, not to violate citizens rights to peaceably assemble and engage in free speech on public streets.

    Besides, many of us well-know the police’s use of “selected enforcement” –issues they choose to deal with and issues they don’t choose to deal with; violations they choose to deal with and violations they don;t choose to deal with; etc., etc.

    That easily could have been done in the recent situation.

    To act in this way, in the way they did, chills free speech and thus clearly violates the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.

    The term “chilling effect” has been in use in the United States since as early as 1950.  History has spoken verses about those times of government overreach in re Senator Joseph McCarthy and his witch hunts, HUAC, the demonizing of American citizens who had a different opinion about the state of affairs, and more.  Many careers and lives were destroyed unnecessarily, the United States Constitution was shamed and tread upon with disdain, democracy, was plunged into darkness, along with the chilling of free speech, for fear of retaliation and more.

    The United States Supreme Court first refers to the “chilling effect” in the context of the United States Constitution in Wieman v. Updegraff, 344 U.S. 183 (1952).

    We, as a democratic society, must avoid the overbearing temptation to chill free expression and open debate, just because we don’t like it, or we don’t want to allow it, or it doesn’t agree with our limited beliefs, however, we must never allow those unhealthy impulses to cause us to replace freedom of speech with freedom from speech.

    We must always remember that the First Amendment, et. al.; is not just a right, it is an obligation.  And, those who swore an oath to uphold the United States Constitution need to be held to the strictest standards in maintaining that obligation to the people of the United States of America.


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