Sacramento activist's photos of light-rail arrest spark viral outcry

Officers overpower two black youths after receiving inaccurate information

An expanded version of this story originally appeared at

Sacramento law enforcement is under scrutiny following the rough arrest of two black adolescents at a light-rail station, photos of which have been shared thousands of times online since Sunday night.

Sunday afternoon, two black male teens were arrested at the 29th Street light-rail station in Sacramento. According to Francine Tournour, director of the city of Sacramento’s Office of Public Safety & Accountability, the confrontation resulted after an inaccurate call to authorities. Tournour said someone called in a report of a black male in a red shirt and red hat chasing a woman with a lead pipe at a light-rail station in the unincorporated county.

Security video from the Mather Field/Mills station in Rancho Cordova, where the boys boarded, show the one in red chasing his smaller friend with a stick. “If I didn’t know they were playing around,” Tournour said, she might have confused it for an attack as well.

Based on the faulty information, officers from the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department and Sacramento Police Department coordinated with each other to intercept the subject when the light-rail train stopped downtown.

Tournour said the red-shirted youth initially complied with officers’ commands to come with them, but then stopped cooperating. That’s when a sheriff’s deputy wrestled him to the ground. According to officers’ accounts, Tournour said, the youth’s friend ran at them “aggressively,” shouting, “Hey, that’s my friend.” A city police officer took him to the ground.

The encounter was witnessed and photographed by activist Independence Taylor. The 17-year-old happened to board the same light-rail train as the boys in Rancho Cordova. Seated in the next car, Taylor said he disembarked at the same time as the youths and watched officers confront them. Taylor wrote that the youths “just barely” got off the train when officers “engaged them and instigated them.”

Taylor uploaded the images and his version of events to his Facebook page Sunday night. By Tuesday, the original post had garnered more than 1,000 likes and comments, and more than 2,000 shares.

Several commenters decried what they viewed as officers wrangling minors in the same type of chokeholds that were attributed to Eric Garner’s death in New York. Tournour described the red-shirted youth as large, “but he’s still a kid.”

A police spokesman said there was no indication that force was used during the incident, “with the exception of physically struggling with the subjects.”

That didn’t appear to be the case to Taylor, a vocal law-enforcement critic who said officers tackled the youths and put them in restrictive holds.

Tournour was alerted to the incident Monday morning when she saw herself tagged in a Facebook comment, and began investigating.

She said sheriff’s deputies cited and released the red-shirted youth at juvenile hall on one charge of resisting arrest, while police officers released the other boy to his parents without a charge.

She also said the red-shirted youth apologized to sheriff’s deputies for overreacting.