Protester of Stephon Clark's Killing Hit by Sacramento Sheriff's Vehicle

by | April 2, 2018

By Jenna Lyons, J.K. Dineen and Demian Bulwa

A woman who was hit by a Sacramento County Sheriff's Department vehicle while protesting the police killing of Stephon Clark was resting at home Sunday after suffering multiple cuts and bruises in the incident.

A 30-second video of the incident was recorded and shared on Twitter by Guy Danilowitz, an attorney with the Sacramento County public defender's office who was acting as a legal observer during the protest. In the video, a woman, identified by the National Lawyers Guild as Wanda Cleveland, walks between two marked sheriff's vehicles at about 8:40 p.m. as the vehicles move slowly through masses of angry demonstrators.

Cleveland carries signs denouncing the March 18 shooting of Clark, an unarmed black man, by two city officers, which has sparked two weeks of protest.

A sheriff's deputy can be heard instructing people to "back away" from the vehicles. The rear sheriff's vehicle accelerates and the right front corner strikes Cleveland as Danilowitz shouts, "Oh my God, Oh my God!" The driver of the vehicle does not stop after hitting Cleveland.

In a statement early Sunday, the Sheriff's Department said the incident happened as deputies kept an eye on marchers and drove west on Florin Road in south Sacramento County.

"As protesters approached both of the marked vehicles, they began yelling while pounding and kicking the vehicles' exterior," said Sgt. Shaun Hampton. "As one of the sheriff's deputies was driving, a collision occurred involving the sheriff's patrol vehicle and a protester who was walking in the roadway. The collision occurred while the patrol vehicle was traveling at slow speeds."

The vigil had been centered at Florin Road and 65th Street before the majority of the marchers began heading east on Florin, said Tawfiq Morrar, a Sacramento attorney who witnessed the incident. Two sheriff's vehicles on the opposite, westbound side of the road had their lights flashing.

Cleveland was among marchers on the west side, and had crossed in front of the sport utility vehicle to get to the sidewalk. Friends said Cleveland had decided to leave the protest because the situation was becoming tense.

After the vehicle struck her, Morrar said, the mood of the protest quickly shifted.

"It went from 'justice for Stephon. Say his name, Stephon Clark' to a lot of people using the incident with Wanda to symbolize their anger with local law enforcement," Morrar said.

"The second officer just didn't give Wanda enough time to clear the streets," Morrar said. "A lot of people say it's intentional. Me, personally, I don't think it was intentional. I think it was reckless."

The Sacramento Metro Fire Department responded and took Cleveland to a hospital, where she was treated and released, Hampton said.

The Sheriff's Department vehicle that hit the woman "sustained scratches, dents and a shattered rear window," Hampton said. "The damage to the vehicle was not a result of the collision involving the pedestrian but was caused by vandals in the crowd."

The incident is under investigation by the California Highway Patrol as well as the Sheriff's Department internal affairs division, which handles potential disciplinary cases. The CHP is investigating the incident as a traffic collision, and investigators will determine whether it should be forwarded to the district attorney for prosecution, said Officer Michael Bradley, a spokesman for the agency.

"The investigation is still in its early stages and no determination has been made about fault or prosecution," Bradley wrote in an email.

The incident had the potential to further inflame tensions in Sacramento as those outraged at Clark's death demand that Sacramento District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert bring charges against the two Sacramento city officers who shot him.

Clark's shooting came amid reports that a person was smashing car windows in South Sacramento shortly after 9 p.m. Police say Clark shattered the sliding glass door of a home, then ran away and jumped a fence into his grandmother's backyard, where he was shot.

In the moments before the shooting, police said, Clark was holding an object in his hand that officers believed was a gun. Only his cell phone was found at the scene. The shooting is under investigation.

An independent autopsy report released by Clark's family last week found that the Sacramento police officers shot Clark eight times -- six in the back or the back of the shoulder.

In the days since the killing, protesters have blocked freeways as well as entry to the Sacramento Kings' Golden 1 Center, leading to game delays and preventing some fans from entering.

At nightfall Saturday, more than 100 people held a candlelight vigil for Clark in South Sacramento. That was the rally that led to Cleveland being struck.

Tifanei Ressl-Moyer, a legal observer at the scene who witnessed the Saturday night incident, said she heard the SUV, then saw Cleveland get thrown and finally lie motionless on the ground, her face against the curb.

"Suddenly you could hear the wheels spin, and you could see the car speed up," Ressl-Moyer said. "You could see her hand was up. You could hear her body against the car. It was horrifying. And then she was flung to the curb."

Cleveland bounced off of the SUV and rolled about 5 to 10 feet from the patrol vehicle, said Cres Vellucci, vice president of the Sacramento chapter of the National Lawyers Guild. He said he took down the license plate number as the SUV left the scene.

"It's not as though he just moved forward," Vellucci said. "This guy sped off, as in burning rubber. He really sped quickly."

Vellucci sought out a CHP officer sitting in a patrol car about 50 to 100 feet away to report the incident, but "his response was get out of here or I will arrest you," Vellucci said.

He said the National Lawyers Guild plans to file complaints with CHP and the Sheriff's Department.

After the incident, Cleveland appeared "clear-headed" but in some pain, Vellucci said.

"She had a huge bump on her head," he said. "Her arms were really scuffed up with abrasions. They looked pretty bad."

Morrar said Cleveland had a streak of blood across her forehead after being hit. While she was lying on the ground, a crowd circled her, some trying to administer first aid, others trying to video and photograph the incident. Morrar dialed 911.

"Dispatch was a little confused when I said it was a sheriff SUV that hit her," Morrar said.

At Cleveland's home in a semirural part of Elk Grove (Sacramento County) on Sunday, friend Taylor Ledford said that she was not ready to talk about her experience.

"She is off of her feet resting right now," Ledford said. "We're here to help clean the house and make sure she is comfortable."

He said Cleveland has been active in a number of organizations, including Black Lives Matter, the Community Dinner Project Of Sacramento, and Caffe, which stands for Clothing and Food for Everyone.

"She doesn't want any of us talking about what she went through," he said. "The wounds are still fresh."

He said that two Sacramento police officers had come to interview her. She didn't speak to them.

"That is not something she is OK with," Ledford said.

(c)2018 the San Francisco Chronicle