Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones said that “professional protesters” flooded a weekend vigil honoring Stephon Clark, a 22-year-old unarmed black man shot and killed by Sacramento police officers.
The Sacramento community has staged days of protests over the death of Clark, whom two Sacramento police officers shot in the back 7 times on March 18, according to an independent autopsy. During a news conference Monday, Jones called the vigil on Saturday night a “peaceful, meaningful assembly with little incident” — until a Sacramento County sheriff’s police cruiser struck a 61-year-old protester. That really got the paid protesters going, according to Jones.
“Unfortunately, in many protests that have developed to this scope, there are professional protesters and professional instigators that infiltrate the protest for their own purposes, as well as participants from out of the region that inflame and antagonize the event,” Jones said on Monday. “That is what happened here, which culminated in many vehicles being struck, objects being thrown, and fires being started.”
The protester who was struck, later identified by the Sacramento Bee as Wanda Cleveland, was transported to a hospital, where she was treated for injuries in her right leg and arm and the back of her head.
Footage of the incident — which Cleveland called a “hit-and-run” — shows her emerging between two sheriff’s department cruisers with their sirens and lights on. The officers driving had repeatedly told about a dozen demonstrators, who appeared to be peacefully rallying around the vehicle, to “back away.” One the cruisers, driven by a sheriff’s deputy, then struck Cleveland, who hit the ground rolling.
Jones said Monday that the deputy’s vehicle was moving at a low speed and was being kicked and hit by protesters. He added that he hadn’t spoken to the deputy since the incident and doesn’t think the deputy had any knowledge that he had hit anyone at the time.
When a reporter asked Jones if he had any evidence that paid protesters attended the vigil, he replied, “We do have evidence, and we have seen it previously. You’ll notice the same cadre of protesters at every protest, sometimes in other states.”
The sheriff’s office did not respond to requests for further comment.
Jones’ claim about the protesters is a conspiracy theory often peddled by opposition to the Black Lives Matter movement to discredit their platform. Most recently, the far-right accused investor George Soros, a top funder of the Democratic Party, of paying March for Our Lives demonstrators, especially student survivors of the Parkland shooting on Feb. 14 that left 17 people dead at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
Mark Reichel, Cleveland’s lawyer, told Sacramento’s ABC News affiliate that hinting Cleveland is a paid protester brings “Trumpspeak” into Sacramento.
"It’s the same as if [Jones] were to say to those begging to be heard that ‘you don’t feel that way. Someone’s telling you to feel that way.’ In other words: ‘I really don’t care what you’re saying.’”
Cover image: Katelyn Camero (right) and Amia Levi hold candles during a vigil to protest the police shooting of Stephon Clark, in Sacramento, California, U.S. March 23, 2018. (REUTERS/Bob Strong)