Court rules officers implicated in UC Davis pepper-spraying must be named

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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A state appellate court ruled Tuesday that the University of California must disclose the names of all police officers who were involved in the Nov. 18, 2011, UC Davis pepper-spray incident.

The 1st District Court of Appeal, ruling in favor of the Los Angeles Times and The Sacramento Bee, contended that the Federated University Police Officers Association, citing confidentiality concerns, had failed to demonstrate that police officer identities were excludable from disclosure under the California Public Records Act.

“This a great victory for students who want to protest and have assurance that they won’t be brutalized,” said Thomas Burke, the attorney representing the newspapers.

The November 2011 incident, in which several UC Davis students were publicly pepper-sprayed by campus police, sparked national outrage over the accountability police face when dealing with student protesters. Students sued the university and reached a $1 million settlement in January.

The controversy began in April 2012 when a task force led by former California Supreme Court justice Cruz Reynoso released a report detailing the police’s misconduct. In the report, the task force conceded that campus police could have taken better steps to prevent “the objectively unreasonable decision to use pepper spray.”

The commission, however, refused to disclose the names of numerous police officers and only included the names of those directly involved, Lt. John Pike and then-campus police chief Annette Spicuzza.

The censorship followed an agreement between the UC Board of Regents and the FUPOA that the names would be kept confidential due to concerns about the police officers’ safety.

In May 2012, the LA Times and The Sacramento Bee filed a petition with the Alameda County Superior Court against the UC Regents to disclose the names.
At the Superior Court hearing, Burke argued that the FUPOA failed to cite any examples that police were harassed or threatened after the incident.

“Some of the police officers’ names had already been unofficially identified by various media sources, so when the issue came up in court, we argued that police officers would already have experienced harassment,” Burke said.

The appeals court ordered that the names be withheld for 40 days to allow the FUPOA to decide whether or not to appeal the decision.

“I feel that the court construed the confidentiality statutes too narrowly, and we’ll likely seek review in the California Supreme Court,” said Michael Morguess, attorney for the FUPOA.

Contact Dennis Vidal at [email protected]. Follow Dennis Vidal on Twitter @vidaldennis