Report slams last year’s ‘Occupy Davis’ pepper-spraying incident
By Madison Ruppert
Editor of End the Lie
Many people remember the images of the University of California Davis police officer pepper-spraying a group of students sitting on the ground with their arms linked. In fact, the image was so striking that it became a bit of a meme, spreading around the internet with various humorous twists.
There was a great deal of damage control at the time, and the UC Davis chancellor Linda Katehi – who initially was the focus of a great deal of criticism – quickly moved to place the blame squarely on the officer by claiming that the police defied orders in using the caustic chemical agent (which one imbecilic Fox News contributor erroneously believed was a food product).
The lengthy report (which you can read in full below) was penned by a 12-person task force led by former California Supreme Court Associate Justice and professor emeritus at the UC Davis School of Law, Cruz Reynoso.
The report states that the officer who actually pepper-sprayed the students, a certain Lieutenant John Pike, bears the primary responsibility for what they called an “unreasonable” use of force.
They said that the now infamous incident “should and could have been prevented,” which seems like an absurdly obvious conclusion.
“There was no reason to have used the pepper-spray,” Reynoso said at an opening meeting held on the UC Davis campus during which the report’s findings were outlined.
Reynoso criticized campus police and school officials for not having a plan in place to deal with the encampment and according to the report, a team of several school officials and Chancellor Katehi failed to clearly communicate how police should proceed.
“The leadership team and the chancellor have to have rules ahead of time for dealing with civil disobedience,” said Reynoso. “The informal approach did not meet the requirements of the crisis. We suggest they have clear procedures of what to do if there’s a large demonstration.”
The supposed communication breakdown came to a head with Lt. Pike assaulting no less than 12 students with the chemical irritant while they were clearly posing no threat whatsoever.
The report indicates that Pike attacked them with a high-pressure pepper spray canister known as an MK-9, which has a minimum application distance of six feet.
The canister used by Pike was somewhat like this, although likely with a higher level of capsicum. If you want to add a little humor to your day, read the reviews lower down on the page and check out the product pictures, many of which make reference to the Occupy Davis incident and other attacks on peaceful protesters.
However, according to the report, Pike appeared to spray the protesters “at a much closer distance than 6 feet,” which is reflected in the now well known image of the incident.
In response to the incident, 19 students filed a federal complaint in February over the actions of Pike and the other officers involved.
The report also concluded that the administration was confused about the legality of the police operation intended to dismantle the encampment and disperse the students.
“Most obviously, if there was no legal basis for deploying the police to take down the tents, the operation should never have taken place,” the report states. “Without a clear understanding of the legal foundation for the operation, the University could not communicate effectively to the protesters. Protesters have a right to be told what laws they are alleged to be breaking.”
Kroll Consulting, a private risk-management consultancy firm, was used by the task force to investigate the incident as well.
They pointed out that Chancellor Katehi and other individuals in the administration were under the false impression that the UC Davis campus was being invaded by unwanted outsiders from the Occupy protests in Oakland where there was allegedly drug use and violence.
“We were worried at the time about that because the issues from Oakland were in the news and the use of drugs and sex and other things, and you know here we have very young students,” Katehi said in an interview which was transcribed for the report.
“We worried especially about having very young girls and other students with older people who come from the outside without any knowledge of their record. … If anything happens to any student while we’re in violation of policy, it’s a very tough thing to overcome,” she added.
For some reason, the UC Davis Police Chief, Andrea Spicuzza, was under a similar impression.
She said that her officers believed, for some reason, that a whopping 80% of the protesters who were camping out on the UC Davis campus were not actually students.
The report, on the other hand, came to the conclusion that “these concerns were not supported by any evidence obtained by Kroll.”
“Even if the campus police had the legal authority to remove the tents, the timing of the operation was ill-chosen and directly led to the gathering of the crowd and the encirclement of the police,” the Kroll report noted, pointing to the questionable move to deploy the campus officers at 3 PM.
“A major police operation that confronts protesters and activists should be mounted during a time when the number of supporters can be minimized, not maximized. Three o’clock in the afternoon on a sunny fall day at the center of the campus Quad seems guaranteed to bring the maximum number of onlookers and protesters to the scene, and in fact that is exactly what occurred,” the report said.
The open meeting drew a significant crowd made up of both students and professors. Some of the attendees included students who were pepper-sprayed and expressed outrage over the massive delays in producing the report and the fact that the officers responsible were not immediately punished for their actions.
“Why are we still being harassed and threatened by the administration and the same police force?” wondered Geoffrey Wildanger, a member of the student group suing UC Davis and the police department, who is also a graduate student and one of the students sprayed by Pike.
“I want an actual solution that requires the administration be changed, if not given rid of, and the UCPD to leave immediately,” he said, which garnered applause from the audience, according to Courthouse News.
Reynoso said that the delays in producing the report were caused by a California law which shields police as well as the fact that the task force was unable to interview the officers in question.
He attempted to pass the buck all the way to the California legislature, saying, “Many of those delays were caused by the legislators in a place called Sacramento.”
“We did not interview [the officers] because of the policeman’s bill of rights,” Reynoso said. “We did not have a subpoena so we don’t have Lt. Pike’s story.”
Reynoso pointed out something which I think is incredibly important in noting that if people were not there to videotape the incident, the public may never have been able to know what actually happened that day.
Unfortunately, across the United States there is a war being waged against Americans exercising their right to film police conducting their public duties in a public place.
At the time police attempted to justify their assault on students by claiming that they felt threatened by the students and the presence of rocks (which were actually only used as a paperweight).
However, video and photographs revealed that the students were in no way endangering or threatening the officers, clearly shown by Pike’s relaxed stroll as he doused the peaceful protesters.
“What concerns me is but for the reality of the Kroll report finding something like 60 tapes of what happened, without that, folk would have a tendency to believe exactly what was said, that the officers were afraid for their lives,” Reynoso aptly pointed out.
This is exactly why the right of the people to hold our police and other public officials accountable is one of the most important rights we have in the modern age.
“Without those tapes, I think folk would have believed that, and that would have been the end of it,” Reynoso said, making a perfect case for the preservation of our right to film police, which is under increasing fire across the nation.
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