Assault on UC Davis ‘Occupy’ protesters calls on-campus policing into question
By Skippy Massey
The video footage of Lt. John Pike clad in riot gear casually spraying pepper spray at the heads of student UC Davis Occupy protesters sitting peacefully on the ground has sparked national outrage since it began circulating online last week, having nearly 2 million YouTube hits since Friday. Students gathered on campus for a second time on Tuesday to condemn the violence, urging university officials to require police to attend sensitivity training, seek more student representation, and review policies concerning student protests. The student government passed a resolution calling on the State Attorney General’s Office to investigate campus police misconduct.
As the controversy over the spraying incident grows and with the video having gone viral, images of the UCPD officer involved, Lieutenant John Pike, have become the subject of popular websites featuring his picture superimposed on famous paintings and pepper spraying famous figures from Gandhi to John F. Kennedy to actress Julie Andrews. Over the weekend, the hacker group Anonymous, which is affiliated with the Occupy Wall Street movement, posted on its website Pike’s phone number and personal details about his home residence.
On Tuesday, about 50 tents formed an encampment on the campus site where the pepper-spraying happened as students went to class. University of California Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi showed up unexpectedly and asked to address students and occupiers during their general assembly meeting but left after waiting 30 minutes for an opportunity to speak.
Lt. John Pike, another officer, and the campus police chief have been placed on paid administrative leave following the pepper spray incident and the resulting public outcry. Pike is a retired 39 year-old Marine sergeant who has been honored twice for his campus police work but also figured prominently in a discrimination lawsuit against the university. Rising swiftly through the ranks of the UC Davis police force over the last decades, he is one of four lieutenants on the campus supervising more a third of the sworn officers. He reportedly earns more than $110,000 per year in salary.
In 2003, two years after joining the campus police force, Pike received a meritorious service award for using his patrol car to bump a suspect’s vehicle onto a local highway ramp and stopping the man from driving the wrong way. In 2006, he tackled a scissor-wielding hospital patient threatening fellow officers. Pike saw the scissors-wielding patient try to assault an officer and landed “a body block, powering his left shoulder” into her. He decided against using pepper spray because it might harm his colleagues or other hospital patients, he said afterwards. “You’ve got all these tools on your belt but sometimes they’re not the best tools,” Pike said at the time.
An alleged anti-gay slur by Pike in 2008 resulted in a racial and sexual discrimination lawsuit filed by a former police officer against the department, ending in a $240,000 settlement. Officer Calvin Chang’s 2003 discrimination complaint against the university’s police chief and the UC Board of Regents claimed he was systematically ‘marginalized’ as the result of anti-gay and racist attitudes on the force. Chang specifically alleged Pike used profane anti-gay slurs describing him.
Pike has made no comment on the pepper spray situation and it is unknown whether he has retained legal counsel regarding the matter.
“I explicitly directed the chief of police that violence should be avoided at all costs. It was the absolute last thing I ever wanted to happen,” UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi said during a town hall meeting Tuesday night.
She told an auditorium filled with more than 1,000 students that she asked police to remove tents from the university’s quad but did not direct them to forcibly remove the demonstrators, stressing that students have a right to demonstrate peacefully. “Because encampments have long been prohibited by UC policy, I directed police only to take down the tents,” she said. “My instructions were for no arrests and no police force.”
Katehi has asked the Yolo County District Attorney’s Office to investigate. Yolo County Chief Deputy District Attorney Jonathan Raven confirmed Tuesday that his department will look into the matter.
Both the UC Davis English and Physics Departments have called for Katehi’s immediate resignation expressing the “lack of confidence and leadership over the outrageous, unnecessary, and brutal pepper spraying episode on Friday, November 18.”
THE FOLLOW UP
State lawmakers announced Tuesday they would hold a hearing on the pepper-spraying incident. California Assembly Speaker John Perez sent a letter to the University of California Board of Regents chairwoman Sherry Lansing and UC President Mark Yudof asking for a system-wide investigation.
Yudof later announced he had appointed former Los Angeles Police Chief William Bratton to review the UC Davis incident and provide an independent, unvarnished report about what happened in 30 days. He also appointed the university’s general counsel and the UC Berkeley law school dean to examine police protocols and policies at all 10 UC campuses, including discussions with students, faculty and staff.
California Attorney General Kamala Harris was reportedly deeply disturbed by the videos of the incident, according to spokeswoman Lynda Gledhill on Tuesday. “She’s confident they will conduct a quick and thorough investigation of the matter,” Gledhill said.
Student government leaders on campus condemned the use of pepper spray on student protesters and called for Katehi to resign if she fails to enact reforms.
“Major reforms are needed because regardless of whoever is fired or resigns, it won’t mean anything if we don’t change policy and the way our institutions are run,” Adam Thongsavat, president of the Associated Students of the University of California, Davis, said in an interview. “That’s what’s going to affect students and campus policy and bring awareness.”
Dieter Dammeier, an Upland lawyer for the Federated University Police Officers Association representing the union of UC Davis officers, said the policies and procedures issued by the department includes the use of pepper spray. “The officers were doing simply what they were instructed to do by upper management there,” Dammeier said, referring to the police operation plans. “So the officers are getting beat up pretty good out there, but they were simply doing what they were instructed to do.”
Jeff Kravitz, a constitutional rights attorney, disagreed. Kravitz sent a letter to Governor Jerry Brown and Attorney General Kamala Harris urging either the immediate arrest of the officers involved or bringing the matter before a Grand Jury for violation of federal and state laws.
“Physical attacks on persons violate California Penal Code 242 (Battery) and such violence perpetrated by those in uniform is a criminal violation of Federal civil rights law 18 USC 242. It is imperative that proper action be taken by the County, State and Federal authorities. Leaving the matter solely in the hands of the University is not a reasonable option,” Kravitz said.
THE VIDEO FOOTAGE, IN THE RARE CHANCE YOU MISSED IT
THE PHOTOSHOPPED MEME
Can be found here.
(Information for this article was sourced from the IndyBay.org news, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Sacramento Bee, the Associated Press, YouTube, and the local Humboldt blogosphere.)