Report on UC Davis pepper spray incident can be released with redactions, judge rules

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 Alameda County Superior Court judge ruled on Wednesday to allow the UC to release the portions of a widely anticipated report on the Nov. 18 UC Davis pepper spray incident that were still pending a court decision.

In issuing the ruling, Judge Evelio Grillo rejected attempts by the Federated University Police Officers Association to keep portions of the report sealed. The police union has claimed that disclosing the report would reveal confidential personnel information. In the ruling, Grillo stated that all names of  the UC Davis police officers involved in the pepper spraying could be redacted, except that of Lt. John Pike — who pepper-sprayed campus protesters at point-blank range — and then-Police Chief Annette Spicuzza.

However, according to UC spokesperson Brooke Converse, the ruling requires the UC to delay releasing the report for at least 21 days to give time for the union to appeal the ruling. Converse said that while she has not read the report, there are many portions describing police conduct on Nov. 18 and recommendations regarding police procedures made to the UC Davis Police Department that the union argues should be kept sealed.

“There are huge sections of the report that (the union) doesn’t want released having to do with what police were doing and how they conducted themselves,” she said. “If the ruling is appealed, then there will be another process.”

Following the pepper spray incident, UC President Mark Yudof requested that the consulting company Kroll Associates prepare a report on the event. He later announced that a task force headed by former California Supreme Court Justice Cruz Reynoso would review the findings of the Kroll report and “based on available information, assign responsibility for the events of Nov. 18,” according to a Dec. 5 letter. The task force report was originally scheduled to be publicly released March 6 but was delayed at the request of the union.

Grillo has permitted the immediate release of portions of the report that do not deal with police conduct. But because such a report would require extensive redactions, Converse said that UC General Counsel Charles Robinson would talk with Reynoso before deciding to release those portions.

“Judge Grillo said UC retains discretion on the timing and form of release of the reports. We will confer with Justice Reynoso about when and how the reports will be released to the UC Davis community and the general public,” Robinson said in a statement released Wednesday afternoon.

Converse added that when released, one-fourth to one-third of the full task force’s report would be redacted. About half of the report prepared by Kroll Associates — which the task force report uses as an appendix — would also be redacted.

On March 16, Grillo ruled that some parts of the task force report could be released but postponed ruling on portions that union lawyers still had not read until Wednesday.

John Bakhit, one of the attorneys representing the union, said he is content with Grillo’s decision to support the union’s request of redacting most officers’ names, but said that he still believes the portions of the report describing police “personnel” matters should be protected.

“As we saw today, this is not a black and white issue,” Bakhit said. “We will talk with our clients to before deciding to file an appeal or not.”

According to a statement, Robinson, Reynoso and Yudof “remain committed” to making the full task force report and the Kroll report accessible to the public. Robinson said in the statement that he hopes the names Grillo has ruled can be redacted will ultimately be made public.

“Sharing and discussing the task force report with the UC Davis community — students, faculty and staff — is a vitally important step toward healing and understanding,” he said in the statement.

Amruta Trivedi is the lead academics and administration reporter.