Report on UC Davis pepper spray incident blames administrators, police

UC Davis Police Lt. John Pike pepper sprays demonstrators who had linked arms and were preventing attempts by the police to remove arrested protesters.
Jasna Hodzic/Courtesy
UC Davis Police Lt. John Pike pepper sprays demonstrators who had linked arms and were preventing attempts by the police to remove arrested protesters.

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An investigative report released at noon Wednesday lambasted UC Davis administrators and police officials for their handling of a Nov. 18 protest in which police pepper-sprayed student demonstrators.

The 190-page report faults ineffectual administrative decision-making, poor police planning and weak chains of communication for the pepper-spraying. Along with the findings of a task force led by former California Supreme Court Justice Cruz Reynoso, the report includes another study by the Kroll consulting company hired to investigate the incident.

“We aren’t making anybody happy with our report because we found a lot that did happen that shouldn’t have happened,” Reynoso said in a town hall meeting Wednesday at UC Davis.

UC Davis administrators and police officials failed to adequately question the timing of police action, the necessity and legality of police force and the claim that many protesters were not UC Davis students, the report states.

The pepper-spraying began shortly after police raided an Occupy Davis encampment organized the day before.

A team of UC Davis administrators and police officials decided to take down the tents out of fear that many protesters were not students — although there was little evidence to support this claim — and that incidents could occur between unaffiliated protesters and students that would harm the community, the report states.

The report adds that administrators and police officials did not carry out the raid at the right time.

“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 this is exactly what occurred,” the Kroll report states.

The report also takes issue with a disorganized chain of command during the protest, where lieutenants did not always follow directives by then-Police Chief Annete Spicuzza.

Lt. John Pike and unidentified “Officer O” employed pepper spray although they was not authorized to do so, and had not been trained to use the more powerful type of pepper spray they had. The spray was also used improperly at too close of a distance.

In a press release Wednesday, state assemblymember Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, said she will pursue legislation based on the report.

She said the unauthorized use of the pepper spray “gives great weight to the Task Force’s recommendation that changes must be made involving the training, organization, and operation of UC Police Departments.”

The report’s recommendations to strengthen oversight and responses of campus leadership during protests include re-training officers and designating a senior official responsible for overseeing protests and civil disobedience.

The report stops short of recommending disciplinary action for police officers or administrators. Instead, a campus police Internal Affairs investigation will handle administrative sanctions and “would address disciplinary action for the police officers.”

That investigation, however, is confidential. The officers subjected to the investigation declined to be interviewed by the Reynoso task force.

The release of the report follows weeks of litigation between a police officers union and the UC due to union concerns over privacy issues. The two parties struck an agreement Tuesday to redact most officers’ names but keep critiques of their actions in the report.

In the town hall, Reynoso said he was grateful that the agreement allows for the public release of the report, so that the actions of those involved are understood and worked through for future incidents.

UC President Mark Yudof agreed.

“We can and must do better,” he said in a statement. “I look forward to working with Chancellor Katehi to repair the damage caused by this incident and to move this great campus forward.”

View the full report below.



Staff writer Jeremy Gordon contributed to this report.