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At last, pepper-spray reports to be made public

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From page A1 | April 11, 2012 |

Pike’s attorney: Contents should aid officers, who want to return to campus

OAKLAND — Reports on the November pepper-spraying of unarmed protesters are “going to surprise a lot of people,” the attorney for the police lieutenant seen in viral video dousing Occupy UC Davis protesters said Tuesday.

John Bakhit represented Lt. John Pike and the Federated University Police Officers Association in Alameda County Court, where Judge Evelio M. Grillo granted a stipulated permanent injunction allowing the university to release the oft-delayed report — minus the names and ranks of officers.

“The impression out there in the public was that (the police union was) trying to hold back facts that were very negative toward police officers,” Bakhit said after the brief hearing. “That’s not necessarily the case. It was a matter of adherence to the law.

“When you look at the report as a whole, we actually believe it’s going to help the officers.”

The approved settlement eliminates the threat of delays that would have resulted from the union filing an appeal of a March 28 ruling by Grillo. In it, he rejected the union’s argument that the reports would violate a state law protecting police personnel records.

The settlement clears the way for UCD to post a task force report and supporting materials — including a fact-finding report by Kroll Associates Inc. — on its home page, www.ucdavis.edu, at noon Wednesday. The task force will host a town hall meeting at 3:30 p.m. in Freeborn Hall that also will be shown live on the UCD website.

The more than 180 pages of reports are to provide the public its first in-depth accounting of what took place Nov. 18. That’s when officers cleared the remnants of a small Occupy encampment from the Quad, arresting 10 protesters and pepper-spraying about a dozen more.

“We thought that this was the best opportunity to get this report out there so the Davis campus can begin the healing process,” Karen Petrulakis, deputy general counsel for UC, said of the settlement.

Bakhit said the union’s “overwhelming issue was concern for the officers’ safety.”

“We accomplished that goal,” he said. “Based on that, there’s really no need to take a chance by moving forward with an appeal. The other side also agreed not to appeal the redacting of the officers’ names, so we’re content with where we are right now.”

In his earlier ruling, Grillo ordered UC to replace the names and ranks of officers with pseudonyms. He did so because of safety concerns stemming from thousands of emails and text messages sent to Pike, whose personal information hackers posted online.

Pike and Chief Annette Spicuzza can be identified in the reports because their names are widely known, the judge ruled.

A third party involved in the suit, the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, agreed not to stand in the way of the settlement — provided that it or others could still seek the names of officers under the Public Records Act.

Staff attorney Michael Risher said the ACLU has not decided whether it would sue for the officers’ names.

“We need to take a look at some of the records that are still sealed … that would include the evidence of threats and harassment against (Lt.) Pike,” Risher said. “We’ll then better be able to weigh the value of releasing the names versus the officers’ privacy interests.”

UC attorney Petrulakis said the names of “a couple” of students who spoke with investigators still need to be redacted before Wednesday in order to comply with the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.

Bakhit echoed what UC attorneys and Grillo have said earlier about the task force report and Kroll reports: that they cover a range of topics including campus policies, police training and decisions made by administrators.

“It’s not a one-way road attacking police officers’ actions,” Bakhit said. “It is a review of the entire course of events from the top down.”

Bakhit said his clients still take issue with “tactical portions where the makers of the report have come to conclusions without having all the facts.”

Spicuzza, Pike and a third officer identified by still photographs as A. Lee, but whose name UC officials refuse to confirm, have been placed on leave pending the result of a separate internal affairs investigation.

Two more officers also face scrutiny for their actions, according to UC. The officers under investigation did not speak with Kroll investigators. To do so would risk being accused of insubordination during the internal affairs investigation, Bakhit said.

Pike and others may yet give their side of the story publicly, Bakhit said, but not before the Yolo County District Attorney’s Office decides whether to file criminal charges against the officers.

“Realistically, I don’t see anything happening with the criminal investigation, but until we have something in writing I won’t even allow (Pike) to consider (speaking publicly),” Bakhit said.

Others among the 35 or officers on the Quad were ordered to speak with Kroll investigators after they accepted administrative immunity.

The Kroll report provided the basis for recommendations made by the 13-member task force of students, staff, faculty and alumni chaired by former California Supreme Court Justice Cruz Reynoso.

“I haven’t seen the reports yet, but I believe they will show a group of well-meaning people trying to do their best to manage a difficult situation,” said UC spokesperson Lynn Tierney.

Two other outside firms have completed the UCD internal affairs investigation, according to a campus spokesman. A sufficiency review panel is now looking over their findings before handing them over to the administrators who will decide whether officers should be disciplined.

Bakhit said the officers have not been told when such decisions would be made.

“They’re very eager to get back to work,” he said.

Pike “absolutely” wants to return to campus, Bakhit said.

“The use of force really boils down to the state of mind of the person who used the force,” he said. “Based on that, and based on everything that occurred that day, we feel (Pike) did not do anything wrong.

“However, let’s take it a step further, for the sake of argument: Even if it were deemed that his actions were wrong it does not rise to the level of a termination or anything that severe.”

— Reach Cory Golden at cgolden@davisenterprise.net. Follow him on Twitter at @cory_golden

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Cory Golden

Cory Golden

The Enterprise's higher-education and congressional reporter. http://about.me/cory_golden
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