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Task force slams pepper-spray actions

UC Davis police Lt. John Pike pepper-sprays nonviolent protesters seated on the campus Quad on Nov. 18. A report examining the controversial incident is scheduled to be released Wednesday, pending a judge's ruling Tuesday. Wayne Tilcock/Enterprise file photo

By
April 11, 2012 |

An independent task force investigating the Nov. 18 pepper-spraying of Occupy UC Davis protesters found campus decision-making “ineffective” and the Police Department “dysfunctional.”

The report paints a damning picture starting from the top, where Chancellor Linda Katehi failed to communicate her position that the police operation should avoid use of force, down to officers on the Quad, like Lt. John Pike, who made the “objectively unreasonable decision” to douse the seated, unarmed students in a moment captured in viral videos.

Katehi and her leadership team — including Vice Chancellors John Meyer and Fred Wood and Police Chief Annette Spicuzza — share responsibility for the decision to remove the tents, the 13-member student, staff, faculty and alumni task force found.

Katehi first suggested deploying police at 3 p.m., rather than in the early morning, a tactical decision that should belong to police, the investigation found.

Spicuzza should have challenged the leadership team on the timing of the police action and clarified the role of police, the task force wrote. She also was responsible for “numerous deviations from best police practices” before and during the operation.

The report, posted on UCD’s home page Wednesday, provides the public its first in-depth accounting of what took place up to and during the incident in which officers cleared the remnants of a small Occupy encampment from the Quad, arresting 10 protesters and pepper-spraying about a dozen more.

Read the full report (PDF) here.

The task force, chaired by former California Supreme Court Justice Cruz Reynoso, will host a town hall meeting at 3:30 p.m. in Freeborn Hall. It also will be shown live on the UCD website, www.ucdavis.edu.

The task force’s campus recommendations include:

* Developing new, regularly reviewed rules, policies and procedures for dealing with protests;

* Campus leaders more closely engaging with student, faculty and staff organizations to build relationships and encourage dialogue;

* Assigning a senior administrator to manage large-scale events on campus and establishing procedures for better decision-making;

* An outside, top-down review of the Police Department, including the chief’s responsibilities; and

* Evaluating and perhaps increasing the involvement of students in policing, like the Aggie Hosts, to “foster a deeper sense of community.”

The task force also recommended that UC evaluate its campus police training, organization and operations and create a systemwide mutual-aid policy requiring that an individual campus’ rules be followed, including those on use of force.

Members also urged UC to review the Police Officers’ Bill of Rights and make recommendations to the Legislature on possible changes that would allow independent public review panels, such as the task force, access to officers under scrutiny.

In a statement, UC President Mark Yudof said that “even a cursory reading of the report confirms what we have known from the start: Friday, Nov. 18 was a bad day for the UC Davis community and for the entire UC system.”

“We can and must do better. I look forward to working with Chancellor Katehi to repair the damage caused by this incident and to move this great campus forward,” Yudof said. “The release of the Task Force report represents a significant step in that direction, which is why we fought hard in court to ensure that it would be brought into public light in as full and unfettered fashion as possible.”

Among the task force’s other findings:

* The Katehi leadership team’s “informal, consensus-based decision-making process was ineffective” for coping with a major extraordinary event;

* The administration did not consider alternatives to removing the camp;

* Decision-making responsibility between administrators and police was unclear;

* There was confusion as to the legal basis for removing the encampment;

* The scope of the police operation to remove the camp “was ineffectively communicated (and) not clearly understood by key decision-makers”;

* Failure to investigate whether there were non-UCD students among protesters, who campus officials said at the time would pose a potential risk to students;

* “A breakdown of leadership in the UCDPD,” with a command and leadership structure that is “very dysfunctional”;

* The Police Department failed to follow standard operating procedures in planning its action, then failed to follow the plan;

* The decision to use pepper spray was “not supported by objective evidence and was not supported by policy”;

* The pepper spray used, MK-9, was not an authorized weapon; and

* Contradicting what reporters were told, another officer, not Pike, was the designated incident commander but abdicated his duties.

Spicuzza, Pike and a third officer identified by still photographs as A. Lee, but whose name UC officials have refused 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.

A UCD spokesman said recently that two other outside firms have completed the internal affairs investigation. 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.

Yudof formed the task force, selecting members nominated by campus groups, at Katehi’s request.

Katehi originally asked the task force to complete its recommendations in 30 days, but the reports have been delayed repeatedly, including by wrangling in and out of court with the Federated University Police Officers Association.

The union argued unsuccessfully in Alameda County Superior Court that the reports would violate state law requiring that police personnel information be kept confidential.

Judge Evilio Grillo ordered that the names and ranks of officers in the reports be replaced with pseudonyms because of safety concerns stemming from thousands of emails and text messages sent to Pike, whose personal information hackers posted online.

Pike and Spicuzza could be identified in the reports because their names are widely known, Grillo said.

— 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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