Reports on the incident involving the pepper spraying of UC Davis students at an Occupy protest on November 18 last year have finally been made public. They make clear that what the police did “should and could have been prevented.”
The reports come from a task force led by Cruz Reynoso, a civil rights lawyer who is a professor at UC Davis, and Kroll, a risk management firm that the task force hired to do fact-finding. Together, the reports make the following conclusions about the police operation which tried to remove students, tents they had set up and resulted in students being pepper-sprayed at point blank range:
There was a failure to investigate whether or not “non-affiliates” (e.g. non-UC Davis students) were present at the encampment. The UC Davis administration decided to deploy police to remove tents before considering alternatives. The “scope of the police operation to remove the tents” was not clearly communicated or understood by decision-makers. It was not made clear what decisions civilian administrators or the police were expected to make.
There was no clear understanding of whether the police operation was legal. UC Davis police did not plan for the action according to standard operating procedures. The decision to use pepper spray “was not supported by objective evidence and was not authorized by policy. The pepper spray that was used – MK-9, a first aerosol projector – was “not an authorized weapon for use” by the police. A breakdown in leadership occurred.
Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi “bears primary responsibility for the decision to deploy police at 3 pm rather than during the night or early morning.” She made a decision that police authorities should probably have made. She failed to communicate that she expected the police operation to not use physical force. She and Vice Chancellor Fred Wood and Vice Chancellor John Meyer share responsibility for deciding tents had to be removed Friday. Without such a decision, the police action would not have resulted.
An “Officer P” is responsible for “abdicating his duties as incident commander.” Lieutenant John Pike is primarily responsible for the “objectively unreasonable decision to use pepper spray on students sitting in a line and for the manner in which the pepper spray was used.”
It is worthwhile to recall what happened on November 18. UC Davis students called an Occupy protest to show solidarity with students at other UC campuses, who were facing tuition increases and had been the victims of police brutality (particularly at UC Berkeley during Occupy Cal protests). The students set up tents on the main quad area of UC Davis. Police were ordered to remove the tents and arrived in riot gear holding batons and tear gas guns. Students sat on the ground in a circle, linked arms and held their ground in the face of a menacing police force.
“Lieutenant of Police” for UC Davis, John Pike, stepped over the line of occupiers sitting on the ground. He pointed a pepper spray canister at the line of students. Then, as if he was watering his lawn, he began spraying the students with orange-colored pepper spray.
The students remained calm. Those around the students began screaming but students being sprayed tucked their heads and tried to avoid getting spray in their face. Only a few occupiers stood up and ran off. Shortly after, students were arrested.
For anyone who didn’t see the incident before now, here’s the video:
The Reynoso task force report dispels any argument that any of the police officers were trapped and had to use pepper spray. It notes that “Officer F” was “able to leave, escorting an arrestee to an awaiting police care by simply walking him straight through the crowd, without incident or force escalation.” He was able to return with no problem. “Officer P” was able to move through the crowd freely, too, “stepping over seated protesters on at least three occasions and just minutes before Lt. Pike sprayed those same protesters with pepper spray.
This report also makes clear that not only should Pike not have used the pepper spray but he should never have been on duty with this specific pepper spray weapon:
…The MK-9 is not an authorized weapon under UCDPD guidelines. UCDPD officers were not trained in how to use it correctly. And Lt. Pike did not use it correctly. The MK-9 is a higher pressure type of pepper spray than what officers normally carry on their utility belts (MK-4). It is designed for crowd dispersal rather than field applications and “[t]he recommended minimum distance for . . . application of the MK-9 is six feet.” Lt. Pike appeared to be spraying protesters at a much closer distance than 6 feet.
There should be criminal charges pressed against Pike for what he did, especially since the Ninth Circuit Court found in the Headwaters Forest Defense case that police were not authorized to pepper spray activists and did not have qualified immunity from prosecution.
The Kroll fact-finding report found there was a fundamental question as to whether the police had the authority to take down the tents and arrest the students who were there opposing them. Kroll determined:
…the UCDPD mounted its operation absent the clarity of legal authority under pressure from the Administration to do something to get rid of the tents. The interviews conducted by Kroll indicate that Chief Spicuzza failed to challenge or question this administrative policy directive at crucial decision points. Indeed, according to Pike’s Supplemental Narrative Report, it was Lieutenants Pike and who demanded the last-minute call to Campus Counsel to obtain legal guidance…
Chief of Police Annette Spicuzza, Pike and “Officer P” contacted Campus Counsel for “legal advice” at the last minute. But, alarmingly, details were redacted in a report from Pike and this information was “not provided to Kroll investigators in correspondence from Campus Counsel. In fact, Campus Counsel would not “advise” Kroll on what was said during the call.
Finally, the report is striking because of how the “Leadership Team” that ultimately ordered the police operation had stigmatized the protest. The administrators knew it was an Occupy protest and were fearful of people, who weren’t students, camping out on campus property. This is why they had “safety concerns” and ordered the encampment to be removed. But, there was no evidence that “many non-affiliates were involved in the Occupy movement encampment” and the report also found the concern about “non-affiliates” did not justify “ordering the immediate dismantling of the encampment.”
Katehi and Meyer saw the Occupy protests in Oakland and that immediately clouded any ability the administrators had to think. Katehi told Kroll staff they heard drugs were being used and “sex and other things” were happening. She was “worried especially about having very young girls and other students with older people who come from the outside without any knowledge of their record.” Meyer explained, “Our context at the time was seeing what’s happening in the City of Oakland, seeing what’s happening in other municipalities across the country, and not being able to see a scenario where [a UC Davis Occupation] ends well.”
So, what did they do? They deployed a police force that was nothing but inept and incompetent when it came to handling the protest. The police followed no “national or state-mandated rules regarding incident/event planning.” Who and who was not a supervisor in the field was not defined. Spicuzza was not briefed ahead of the operation. There had been no plans on how to move students who might be arrested. As the Reynoso report concluded, “The command and leadership of the UCDPD [was] very dysfunctional.”
Despite the clear breakdown in leadership, Spicuzza was not interviewed for the report. It is unclear what accountability there will be for her actions. However, the fact that students could have been hurt severely because dysfunctional and inept police were in action with unauthorized weaponry makes Spicuzza guilty of negligence. Spicuzza failed miserably and should at minimum be fired.
There should be some accountability for what Chancellor Katehi did. Her hysterical reaction to the fact that Occupy had come to UC Davis created the scenario, which resulted in the horrible incident. If she had been a reasonable person, the police could have gradually diffused the situation if they really were so fearful of an Occupy encampment on campus.
This is what happens at “Repress U,” where a campus police department can instantly be deployed to squash any free speech or assembly. If the campus police aren’t using pepper spray, then they are using “less-lethal” munitions, like CS gas, beanbag rounds and pepper pellets. It is a part of a transformation of universities and colleges that has happened all over the country, where the federal government is helping administrators transform them into homeland security campuses.
If the report helps produce any favorable outcome, it should lead to a full-scale re-assessment of how campuses handle security, especially during protests. The UC Davis students posed no threat and it is unlikely that they would pose any significant threat at protests in the future. The University of California system should get rid of riot cops. Should anything happen that would ever require such a patrol, there would always be police in Sacramento, San Francisco and other bigger cities in California that could be brought in to protect security.