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‘It was really bad out there’: Report details ill-fated police action

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From page A1 | April 12, 2012 |

UC Davis police Lt. John Pike removes a red canister of MK-9 pepper spray from another officer’s belt. As he shakes it, the activists seated before him bow their heads and cover their faces.

Around them, an angry crowd chants, decrying the arrests of 10 Occupy UC Davis protesters on the campus Quad.

As media and cell-phone cameras capture soon-to-be-viral videos, Pike steps over the row of protesters and douses them with orange spray at close range, stopping occasionally to shake the canister, until it appears empty.

“Oh my God,” Pike later says, scratching his head upon his return to the police station. “I hope I’m not the scapegoat for this one … it was really bad out there.”

The Nov. 18 spraying, and the events that led up to it, are outlined in a 130-page report by Kroll Associates. Its contents are culled from interviews with university administrators, faculty, staff, student activists, police officers and witnesses to the events on the campus Quad.

Investigators also reviewed some 10,000 pages of records, including written and email communications, police reports, phone records and media reports, as well as hours of video of the incident.

Much of the report revolves around the decisions made by UCD’s “Leadership Team,” an 11-member group led by Chancellor Linda Katehi that formed in 2009 to respond to the increasing number of demonstrations at the Davis campus.

Protests planned

Amid the momentum of the national Occupy movement in which encampments are established in cities across the country, UCD administrators become aware of two Occupy UC Davis protests planned for Oct. 27 and Nov. 9.

On Oct. 25, John Meyer, vice chancellor of administration and resource management, sends Katehi and other officials — including UCD Police Chief Annette Spicuzza — an email saying camping will not be allowed on the Quad due to potential security risks.

“This is a good plan,” Katehi replies to the group.

At the UCD Police Department, a lieutenant — identified in the report as “Officer P” — prepares an operations plan for the Oct. 27 protest, but it goes unused. The demonstration, and another on Nov. 9, take place without incident.

That isn’t the case at Occupy UC Berkeley, where police clad in riot gear swing batons during a violent Nov. 9 confrontation with activists who had linked arms to defend their tents.

The incident leads to a Nov. 15 march and rally at UCD. That afternoon, an estimated 200 protesters march to Mrak Hall, with some occupying the administration building overnight.

An operations plan for the protest, also prepared by Officer P, addresses the removal of encampments.

“The use of force is highly likely in this situation based on past events,” the plan says, an apparent reference to Berkeley and Oakland. Under the heading “Officer Safety” it adds: “The use of pepper ball and the MK-9 (pepper spray) should be considered.”

It is unclear whether anyone other than Pike and Officer P views the plan. Neither they nor Spicuzza gave interviews for the report.

Although officers are deployed to Mrak on Nov. 16, the occupiers disperse on their own. By 5 p.m., however, 150 to 200 activists assemble on the north steps of Mrak Hall, where they plan a noon rally the next day and vow to camp indefinitely on the Quad.

Berkeley concerns

The Leadership Team holds two conference calls at 8:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. Nov. 17, with Katehi asserting that any tents erected on the Quad should be removed “before the weekend.” The only specific direction to Spicuzza regarding police use of force occurs during the second call.

“We don’t want it to be like Berkeley,” Provost Ralph Hexter says. Katehi agrees, but later acknowledges she did not provide direction for avoiding violence, leaving those decisions to Spicuzza and other administrators.

By 3 p.m., despite prevention efforts by police and Student Affairs staff, 15 tents have sprouted on the Quad in just 10 minutes. Two officers warn the activists they are violating university policy but do not order them to leave.

That evening, Spicuzza reports to Meyer she can’t muster enough officers to dismantle the encampment at 3 a.m. Friday, the preferred early morning tactic used earlier in the week at UC Berkeley and UCLA.

Spicuzza asks to delay the operation until 3 a.m. Saturday, but in a conference call Thursday night, Katehi expresses concern about the encampment turning into a party atmosphere. She suggests moving up the operation to 3 p.m. Friday.

No one objects, including Spicuzza, who says as much as 80 percent of the Quad campers are not affiliated with the campus, by officer accounts.

Griselda Castro, assistant vice chancellor of student affairs, disputes this, saying the only non-affiliates she saw were members of interfaith communities who were delivering food. Spicuzza concedes.

Castro also suggests offering alternatives to the activists, in light of widespread support for the Occupy movement.

“I said … that it’d be cheaper to put two port-a-potties and have the police patrol, than if something goes wrong, the months of litigation that could follow,” Castro told Kroll interviewers. “It’s going to be Thanksgiving, it’s going to rain, the finals are coming. It’ll blow over.”

The response, Castro said, “was dead silence.”

Operation planned

At the police station, Spicuzza, Pike, Officer P and Dispatch Supervisor Leticia Garcia-Hernandez discuss logistics for the operation Thursday night. Spicuzza says neither batons nor pepper spray should be used.

“Nobody wants to do that,” the lieutenants say, according to Garcia-Hernandez. “But we can’t predict if we’re gonna have to use them.”

Spicuzza also discourages the use of riot gear, such as helmets and face shields, a suggestion the lieutenants call “ridiculous.”

“You cannot tell somebody to walk into a situation like that without their safety gear,” they say. The issue goes unresolved and is debated into the next day.

That morning — Friday, Nov. 18 — communications staff draft a letter from Katehi to the Occupy group calling for tents to be removed by 3 p.m. Katehi makes several edits, though later claims to investigators that she never reviewed the letter.

Meanwhile, Pike and Officer P contact campus counsel, questioning the legality of enforcing an overnight camping policy in a daytime operation. At 1 p.m., Spicuzza informs the Leadership Team that the 3 p.m. operation “is a bad idea.”

Katehi replies she “can’t tell police how to do their jobs … but … I absolutely do not want those students staying overnight on a Friday where there could be a party or something could happen to them.”

Pike, disgusted, leaves the room. Later, he and Spicuzza spar again over the use of batons and riot gear, with Pike saying the operation likely would involve some level of resistance.

“All right, I get it … I just don’t want another Berkeley,” Spicuzza says before heading to the Quad.

On the Quad

The chief attempts to disperse the activists, ordering them to remove their tents or risk being arrested. The group responds by moving the tents to the center of the Quad and linking arms around them.

At 2:30 p.m., Pike — not Officer P, the incident commander — briefs 35 UC officers on the operation plan, dubbed “Eco-Friendly.” Half the officers are from UCD, the others from the Berkeley, San Francisco and Santa Cruz campuses.

Officers leave the briefing with conflicting views of the mission. Some believe only the tents are to be removed, while others infer that the students also must go. They say Pike offers no clear guidance on acceptable use of force.

They arrive on scene armed with batons, pepper-ball rifles and canisters of MK-9 pepper spray — a product not listed in the department’s authorized weapons policy, and for which officers have received little training.

Spicuzza makes contact by cell phone as the officers form skirmish lines southwest of the Quad.

“That looks really bad, I don’t want to come in here like an army. Could you change that?” Karen Nikos, a UCD spokeswoman assigned to stay with the chief that day, overhears her say. “And they apparently told her, ‘No.’

“You know, there’s a limit to what I can do, because they have training that tells them to do things a certain way,” Spicuzza tells Nikos.

Pike gives the first dispersal order at 3:29 p.m., followed by five more over the next five minutes. A crowd of spectators gathers to watch the confrontation between police and the chanting activists.

With no order from Spicuzza to pull out, officers advance on the tents, arresting 10 protesters who attempt to block them.

At that point, a crowd of students moves forward “like an ocean surge,” one officer later told investigators. “I really felt that we were starting to become encircled.”

Use of force

By 3:39, the tents are cleared, replaced by several activists who sit down and block the walkway as Pike tries to create an exit route for officers escorting arrestees off the Quad.

“Set them free,” chants the crowd, which surrounds officers standing on the walkway. Video footage, however, shows gaps in the crowd that allow some officers to move in and out of the circle, the Kroll report says.

Pike, told that crowd members are “holding and passing out rocks,” orders officers to draw their batons. One by one, he warns the seated activists they’ll be subjected to force if they stay.

“If you let them go, we will let you leave,” the crowd chants. Pike and other officers begin to fear for their safety.

But video footage of the incident shows, at one point, just a few students blocking the walkway, and spectators mostly lining it, the Kroll report notes. Still, two officers step forward and raise their pepper ball guns.

Minutes later, Pike retrieves the MK-9 from another officer’s belt, displaying it to the crowd before stepping over the activists and releasing the spray — doing so at less than the recommended six feet, the Kroll report notes. A second officer, Officer O, joins in at Pike’s command.

Pike reports the pepper-spray decision stemmed from a discussion of less-lethal options with Officer P, the incident commander. Officer P’s report mentions no such conversation, and video footage shows him walking away from the activists as Pike lifts the can of pepper spray.

Amid screams and shouts of “shame on you,” police breach the line, separate the activists and clear the walkway. Campus firefighters treat about a dozen of the sprayed protesters, two of whom are taken to Sutter Davis Hospital.

Police leave the Quad at 4:20 p.m. Pike and a second officer return 20 minutes later to take down two more tents, an event that transpires peacefully.

At the police station, Spicuzza holds a debriefing session, praising officers for an “outstanding job.”

Reach Lauren Keene at lkeene@davisenterprise.net or (530) 747-8048. Follow her on Twitter at @laurenkeene

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