Why did Sean Thompson put a pie in Kevin Johnson’s face?

From Occupy to Ferguson, SN&R looks at his history of Sacramento activism—and frustration

Alleged pie-thrower Sean Thompson, center, was joined in court by his attorneys Jeffrey Mendelman (left) and Claire White.

Alleged pie-thrower Sean Thompson, center, was joined in court by his attorneys Jeffrey Mendelman (left) and Claire White.


Matt Kramer contributed to this report.

What motivated Sean Thompson last week to allegedly buy a coconut cream pie from Safeway, weasel into a private farm-to-fork dinner event in Oak Park and throw it at Mayor Kevin Johnson’s face?

Maybe there are answers in an event that happened five years ago, when Sacramento police arrested Thompson for a different reason: camping in Cesar Chavez Plaza.

It was just after midnight on October 7, 2011. Thompson and 18 other men and women lay on their backs at the southwest entrance of the park. They were surrounded by a potent show of local law enforcement including: cops on horseback, dozens of police vehicles and multiple patrol wagons, and more than 70 officers in riot gear-style clothing.

Thompson and his fellow Occupy Sacramento activists were arrested and cited for remaining in the park past 11 p.m., a.k.a. “camping.” Thompson himself would be arrested three times during these Occupy protests.

Also that fall, Thompson and his Occupy pals regularly filled city council chambers on Tuesday nights. At one meeting, instead of speaking during his allotted time, the future pie-thrower came to the podium, stood silent and turned his back on the mayor for two minutes.

Three years later Thompson was at Arden Fair mall on Black Friday—but he wasn’t shopping for deals. He was out front, with dozens of protesters, speaking out against racial injustice and police use-of-force in Ferguson, Mo. And he was arrested that afternoon, for blocking an intersection.

“An officer picked [him] up from behind and slammed him down in the pavement in the middle of the street,” explained attorney Claire White, who is representing Thompson.

All in all, local law enforcement has arrested Thompson nine times for protesting. Charges were dropped in each instance.

Perhaps, however, the pie idea had nothing to do with those arrests. Maybe he bought the pie because of: his own experience as a veteran of the homeless community in Sacramento, or his involvement in the “right-to-rest” protests earlier this year out front of City Hall.

Activist James “Faygo” Clark co-organized that protest, and told SN&R that Thompson would show up to support and protest, or donate food and assistance. But after months of actions, the city still is not any closer to approving a safe-ground homeless camp or repealing the anti-camping ordinance. And Clark said activists like Thompson “are frustrated, because for years we have nonviolently protested, and pleaded with city council to address the concerns of the people.” He said that they were “essentially ignored” by city leaders.

Thompson agreed. He told media last week that he felt all his work didn’t have an impact. And that Johnson had “to do better to represent the people.”

In fact, that’s what he told the mayor in the seconds after he pied him, according to his attorney.

White also told SN&R that, after the pie hit the mayor on Sept. 21, there was a brief pause.

And then Johnson tackled the 32-year-old, pinned him to the ground and sat on him, and threw “six, seven, eight” punches with “a closed fist,” White said.

Thompson left the scene with a shiner on his left eye, and “very severe bruising all through his torso, on his front and his back,” White said. He received double-digit stitches at a local hospital before being booked on a felony charge of assaulting a public official and a misdemeanor charge of battery on school property.

SN&R spoke to six people who witnessed the incident but would not discuss it for attribution. One said that the mayor hit Thompson “repeatedly.”

Pictures released by Sacramento Magazine don’t show a bloody scene, but one witness said that you could see blood spread across Thompson’s face. And local fighter Urijah Faber told a local TV station that Thompson appeared “bloodied up.”

The mayor’s chief of staff, Crystal Strait, described her boss’ response as self-defense, and has told other reporters that Thompson’s action was a shocking “assault” on Johnson.

A Sacramento police spokesperson did confirm in the hours after the event that “the mayor did strike the suspect after he was assaulted.” Police also questioned Johnson after the assault, but his statement and a full police report is not yet available.

Thompson’s attorney says that the mayor should be held accountable for his attack on Thompson.

“If it had been anyone else, they’d had been arrested on assault and battery,” White argued.

She also said that Thompson, who didn’t enter a plea at his September 27 arraignment, will soon file a civil suit against the mayor, seeking monetary compensation for medical costs, lost work time and damages.

Meanwhile, Johnson has yet to announce whether he will participate in the prosecution of Thompson on the felony charge. If he doesn’t, the case likely will be dropped, according to a local attorney who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

This expert also thinks that the mayor will likely have to pay out and settle with Thompson.

Either way, there may be another showdown between Johnson and Thompson soon: The pie-thrower plans to speak at upcoming city council meetings. But will Johnson, what with his infrequent attendance, show up?