On June 6, Brandon Smith was found dead in the back of a police wagon at the Sacramento County Jail. His family was forced to wait and wonder what had happened to their loved one and were given very few details until a week later. The story has since come out that Smith’s mother had initially called his parole officer for assistance for her son. Smith’s parole officer then reportedly asked a nearby Sacramento Police Department officer in a wagon to transport Smith to the county jail. By the time Smith arrived at the jail, he was unconscious and was later pronounced dead at the scene by paramedics.
On June 13 a press conference was held in front of Sacramento City Hall demanding answers. The family’s lawyer said of Smith’s mother: “She dropped him off with the parole agent with the idea that the agent would help him find a housing facility. Not to go to jail. Not to go to prison. Not for any type of parole violation. This was Brandon asking for assistance from his parole agent.”
Just hours after the press conference, the city released multiple videos of the incident.
Body camera footage shows a police officer entering a building where Smith was handcuffed face down. Smith said, “I’m OK.” before the officer leaned down and twisted Smith’s wrists, forcing him to stand up. Smith was then walked to the police wagon while his wrist was twisted for no apparent reason. Accompanied by the parole officers, the police officer then lifted Smith into the back, warning him to watch his head before pushing him head first into the back of the wagon with a loud thud. The viewer can hear that Smith groaned in pain and was not secured in the back seat despite the presence of seat belts. The officers laughed and slammed the door.
As the officer got to the jail and opened the back door after about a 10 minute ride, he was seemingly surprised at the sight of Smith’s unmoving body. However, contrary to the official story that the officer stopped the vehicle after seeing Smith stop moving on his camera, the officer actually made it all the way to the jail before checking on Smith.
When actually calling the incident in, the officer was asked what happened over the radio and responded with, “We got a body rolling.” Such a response suggests that such incidents occur more often than are reported. One cannot help but recall the story of Freddie Gray who died after being taken on an infamous “rough ride” by Baltimore cops.
Police statements and media reports that came out with the body camera footage misplaces the emphasis on three areas. First, reports mention that an autopsy performed last week showed no signs of trauma. But we can clearly see from the video that Smith was thrown handcuffed into the back of a vehicle to ride several blocks with no restraints whatsoever. If the officer was there to transport someone, they clearly did not do so with any concern for safety.
Second, that Smith was being brought in for public intoxication. If this was the case then it was medical attention that was needed and an ambulance should have been called, not a police wagon. In this case as in others involving police misconduct, we are already seeing the victim being blamed while the police are absolved of any responsibility.
Lastly, that Smith was in violation of his parole. Somehow this is supposed to help explain why officers had to use such harsh treatment in getting Smith into the police wagon. While never failing to mention his status as a parolee, few of the articles mention Smith as a father of three and a valued member of his family and community. Instead, this is just supposed to be another dead and criminalized Black man added to the list of hashtags.
The death of Brandon Smith, as well as the police and media reaction, cannot be separated from the context of continuous racist police attacks on the Black community and ongoing disregard for humanity shown by the entire “criminal justice” system. While the family mourns, the city is no doubt mobilizing all of its resources to prevent the California Department of Corrections, Sacramento Sheriff’s Department and Sacramento Police Department from being held accountable.
But the attempts to sweep things under the rug will not go unchallenged by the people of Sacramento who have not forgotten the “toolbar” that police claim Stephon Clark had before he was murdered in his own backyard on March 18. Neither the police and media narrative nor the city’s delay tactics will stop the people of Sacramento from demanding justice for Brandon Smith by any means necessary!