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The Kevin Johnson Pie Saga Rolls On, At Taxpayer Expense

Photo credit: Patrick Redford

Sacramento’s not done with the Kevin Johnson soap opera after all: Sean Thompson, who hit the ex-NBA superstar in the face with a coconut cream pie at a September charity event and immediately took what the public now knows was a heinous physical beating from the disgraced now-former mayor, is going back to court.

The Sacramento District Attorney’s Office has already had one whack at Thompson, having tried him last month on a felony count of assaulting a public official. But that case ended in a mistrial after a two-week trial in Sacramento Superior Court, when jurors told the judge they were hopelessly hung on the fifth day of deliberations. After declaring a mistrial, Judge Robert Twiss made it clear he didn’t like Thompson’s act. “I do not think he has the potential for rehabilitation,” Twiss said, according to a report in the Mercury News. Well, the DA’s office announced it would bring the unrehab-able pie thrower back to court, this time to face a reduced charge of misdemeanor assault.


The news that the city was putting Thompson on trial again reminded all Johnson watchers that his gifts as a polarizer remain as blatant as his hoops skills once were.

Commenters on the Sacramento Bee’s website were overwhelmingly against the decision. Some of the naysayers accentuated the time and tax money already spent prosecuting an offense that Thompson, an activist for the city’s homeless, claimed was political theater. Some asserted the legal authorities should have spent the same amount of effort investigating corruption and sexual abuse charges leveled through the years against Johnson, the onetime hometown hero. Still others pointed out that there was more evidence that Johnson, who has been all but invisible since leaving office in shame last year, assaulted Thompson than vice versa. Photographs of Thompson’s disfigured and punctured face, taken by police the night of the pieing, were sent to Deadspin by a source in Sacramento who was upset that the graphic evidence of the beating hadn’t been released to the public. Johnson was not charged in the incident.


But, again, in Sacramento, to every Kevin Johnson saga there’s always two sides, very far apart from each other. Bee columnist Marcos Breton is among those still willing to fight Johnson’s fight. Breton was so outraged that locals were outraged that another pie trial was looming, and that the Johnson circus that lots of residents simply want to go away wasn’t folding up its tent just yet, that he wrote a column moaning about how Thompson wasn’t already in jail, and that “deportation to another city” wasn’t an available punishment for the ex-mayor’s baked-goods-wielding antagonist.

“On face value, retrying Thompson is absurd, a waste of time and taxpayer money,” Breton wrote. “But it is necessary, if only because this guy did something so corrosive – attacking someone – and has not only been unrepentant, he’s actually enjoyed the subsequent spotlight. Thompson has argued that what he did was political theater. But if you reduce his actions to their elements, here’s what you get: Thompson used physical violence to humiliate another human being. When is that ever OK?”


Bee readers pointed out that Breton’s anti-violence sermon ran with a photograph, taken at the charter school fundraiser where the pieing took place, showing Johnson’s dress shirt stained with the blood of the man he’d just pummeled. On the night of the incident, while Thompson was being stitched back together by doctors and Sacramento journalists were reporting that the pie man was beaten to a “bloody pulp” by the mayor and his mob, Breton was issuing his own news flashes that Johnson hadn’t laid a glove on anybody. Some classic tweets from Breton from that night:


Testimony in the first trial, and the photos of Thompson that circulated subsequent to the trial, contradicted Breton’s claims of no blood and no punches, and strengthened his reputation for being a leader of the Sacramento media types who helped Johnson survive eight scandal-plagued years. When HBO’s Real Sports chronicled numerous sexual abuse charges that have been leveled against Johnson, for example, Breton wrote a column dismissing the network’s segment, asserting in the lede that the sad, seamy tales were nothing but old news and that the piece had “no smoking guns.” One of Breton’s wisest detractors made “no smoking guns” a meme in the state capitol.


Thompson’s attorney, Claire White, said before the first trial that her client had wanted Johnson to testify, but that never happened. The defense team said Johnson avoided being hit with a subpoena better than he had Thompson’s coconut cream pie. Assuming he still wants to confront Johnson in court, Thompson has a couple more months to find him: The Sacramento Bee reported the opening gavel won’t be banged on the pie retrial until August 24.

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