Will The First Amendment Save The Kevin Johnson Pie Bandit?
Can pie throwing be considered a protected form of speech? Will Kevin Johnson be asked, for the first time ever, to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth about his seamy side, so help him God? Will Michelle Rhee get cross-examined—or even examined?
Getting the answers to those questions will be among the reasons folks who’ve followed the never-ending soap opera of Johnson, the ex-NBA superstar turned disgraced (and now former) mayor of Sacramento, are excited about the upcoming trial of Sean Thompson, the man who hit Johnson with a pie at a fall charity gala, then took a beating from the pied politico. Thompson was charged with counts of assaulting a public official, a felony, and committing assault on school grounds, a misdemeanor. At a hearing last week in Sacramento Superior Court, a judge confirmed that the trial will indeed start on April 19. The court has set aside two weeks, a huge amount of time for a typical assault case. But nobody expects this trial to proceed typically.
The case puts Johnson back in the spotlight for the first time since he left office late last year. His eight-year run as the chief executive of his hometown were a scandal-plagued media circus, but Johnson’s been invisible. He doesn’t even tweet anymore, and the only attention anybody paid to him this year came when he took a part-time job with a major sports agency and when voters for the basketball Hall of Fame again rejected him. The same scandals and sexual-abuse accusations that drove Johnson out of politics and got ESPN to shelve a fawning documentary about his efforts to keep the Sacramento Kings from leaving town likely wounded his bid to gain enshrinement. And there’s a fine chance his darker chapters will be brought up in court.
The facts of this case aren’t in much dispute: Everybody agrees that Johnson’s face collided with Thompson’s coconut cream pie during a fall fundraiser for Johnson’s St. HOPE chain of charter schools, and that Thompson’s head then quickly came in contact with lots and lots of fists, including Johnson’s and others belonging to the mayor’s security detail. Jailhouse photos of Thompson, who was arrested on the scene, show cuts and scrapes all over his face, some needing stitches.
No video evidence of the pieing has ever been made public. But Deadspin has obtained a copy of a video shot by a witness that shows how bizarre the incident seemed to partygoers. The clip starts as members of Johnson’s security detail are on top of Thompson. An offscreen narrator, after saying that from the way the encounter began she initially assumed Thompson and Johnson “were friends,” describes the action she’d just witnessed: “[Thompson] walked up to [Johnson] as if he were to know him and tapped him on the shoulder very lightly, again as if he knew him and were going to say hi, and then pied him in the face and that was it. When the reaction came I was like, ‘Oh, that that’s not a friend!’”
“That was not a good reaction on his part because it’s going to be all over the news tomorrow or tonight,” another witness responds. “He should have just walked away.”
As the camera pans away from the gaggle of folks restraining Thompson, Johnson can be seen walking around in the background wiping what appears to be coconut cream from the side of his head. Michelle Rhee, the school-privatization activist and his wife, is beside him.
Another party-goer shows up on the video and says, “I wanna break in my new cowboy boots on that little mofo!”
Thompson, the little mofo in question, has been estimated to be 5’7”, 130 pounds. During his playing career, Johnson was listed at 6’1”, 190 pounds, but he’s bulked up considerably in retirement.
Deadspin also obtained a copy of a report written up by the Sacramento Police for the DA’s office about the St. HOPE brouhaha. In it, a detective says Johnson, who was not charged for punching Thompson after the pieing, called the police a day later to claim he had “minor whip lash (sic) which he attributed to being struck by [Thompson] with the pie,” and also asserted his “right groin was strained” during the subsequent “struggle to subdue” Thompson.
A Sacramento source with ties to the investigation said Johnson having called the police to say he was injured could help him if civil suits are filed against him for beating up the pie thrower. “The report of him calling in the next day about his ‘injuries’ is hilarious,” says the source. “He’s clearly trying to cover his ass in a civil suit.”
Johnson did not respond to requests for comment left with Independent Sports and Entertainment, the sports agency that recently hired him.
Claire White, the attorney representing Thompson, admits thatWill The First Amendment Save The Kevin Johnson Pie Bandit?: