‘Piegate’ activist thrashed by Kevin Johnson won’t face retrial

Plea deal spares military veteran of jail time and former mayor from testifying

This is an extended version of a story that appeared in the September 14, 2017, issue.

Sacramento’s most famous pie caper ended with a whimper instead of a splat.

Last Thursday morning, the Sacramento County district attorney’s office made it clear that it would not put activist and military veteran Sean Thompson in front of a jury for a second time on grounds that he “assaulted” former Mayor Kevin Johnson with a crusted pile of coconut cream. Instead, prosecutor Anthony Ortiz announced a deal in which Thompson pleaded guilty to one count of misdemeanor disturbing the peace, effectively ending a yearlong political soap opera that drew national attention.

“This was always about justice,” Thompson’s attorney Claire White said of the deal. “This is a model for how it gets done.”

Ortiz had no comment.

The plea agreement was a far cry from the DA’s original criminal charges against Thomspon—for felony battery on a public official with the intent to cause fear or intimidation.

Thompson had put the pie in Johnson’s face during a fundraising event in September 2016, claiming it was an act of political theater to bring attention to the mayor’s handling of homelessness in the city. According to numerous eyewitnesses, Johnson then threw Thompson on the ground and punched him repeatedly.

Ortiz spent more than a week this past May trying to convince 12 jurors that it was Johnson who was, in fact, the victim of a serious assault. He did so by calling zero police officers to the stand, instead relying on the testimony of several well-known restaurant personalities.

That led to a hung jury.

In June, Ortiz refiled the case against Thompson, this time for misdemeanor assault.

With a second jury trial looming, White was preparing a double-jeopardy motion when she learned on September 6 that prosecutors would accept a plea agreement for disturbing the peace. White told SN&R that Thompson knows he broke that law in staging his act of civil disobedience during the pie-throwing incident, insomuch as he disturbed the peace of other people gathered at the event. That, White said, Thompson would accept responsibility for.

Thompson was sentenced to two days in county jail with credit for time served. He’ll face no fines or probation.

“Mr. Thompson, are you presently under the influence of drugs or alcohol?” superior court Judge Kevin McCormick asked while finalizing the deal Thursday.

“Not presently,” Thompson replied, eliciting a brief smile from the judge.

Outside of the courtroom, Thompson stressed he’s going back to his life now, saying, “I’ll probably continue to show up to protests and other activist activities.”