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UCD report: Plenty of blame to go around

Former California Supreme Court Chief Justice Cruz Reynoso discusses the task force's findings Wednesday afternoon during a meeting at Freeborn Hall. Wayne Tilcock/Enterprise photo

By
From page A1 | April 12, 2012 |

UC Davis leaders set campus police up to fail, and fail they did — drawing worldwide outrage for pepper-spraying student protesters.

That’s according to a review of the Nov. 18 incident released Wednesday by an independent task force. It calls the campus’ decision-making “ineffective” and the police department “dysfunctional.”

Over 190 pages, the findings of the 13 students, faculty, staff and alumni and a fact-finding report by from Kroll Associates Inc., a security firm, paint a damning picture — “a cascading series of errors,” in the words of Kroll investigators.

It begins at the top, where Chancellor Linda Katehi failed to make clear that police shouldn’t use force, and continued down to officers sent to clear a small Occupy Davis encampment from the Quad, like Lt. John Pike.

He made the “objectively unreasonable decision” to douse about a dozen seated, unarmed students with pepper spray in a moment captured in viral videos. Another 10 protesters were arrested, but charges were never filed.

“Many of the folk who were involved in this situation, from the chancellor to others, I think proceeded in good faith, but they made, from our point of view, many serious mistakes,” said the chair of the task force, former California Supreme Court Justice Cruz Reynoso, during a town hall-style meeting Wednesday at Freeborn Hall.

Katehi and her ad-hoc Leadership Team — among them Vice Chancellor John Meyer and Fred Wood, Provost Ralph Hexter and Police Chief Annette Spicuzza — share responsibility for the decision to remove the tents, the task force found, and for doing so with shaky legal justification.

Wrote the Kroll investigators, “The actions of the Leadership Team provide a case study in how not to make important institutional decisions.”

The group met by phone. It didn’t keep minutes. Members came away with varying ideas about what decisions had been made and who had made them, investigators found.

“Repeated failures in the civilian, UC Davis administration decision-making process … put the officers in the unfortunate situation in which they found themselves shortly after 3 p.m. that day,” reads the Kroll report.

Katehi herself first suggested deploying police at 3 p.m., instead of in the early morning, as police elsewhere in the UC system and around the country had done when clearing Occupy encampments. That tactical decision should have belonged to police, the investigation said.

Campus leaders were driven by a concern that non-students were among the protesters and presented a safety risk, but they failed to follow up on reports by Student Affairs staff that the encampment looked to be populated by students.

The Leadership Team also did not consider alternatives to removing the camp, investigators found.

Legal grounds shaky

Officials offered various legal grounds for sending in police, none of which Kroll or the task force found convincing. They included:

* A state law prohibiting camping without permission, when it was not clear by afternoon who had camped the night before;

* A campus rule against camping that it would be “legally suspect” to have police enforce; and

* A state law that bars people not affiliated with a campus from camping, although almost all the protesters were students.

Spicuzza should have challenged others on the team about the timing of the police action, the task force said.

Kroll investigators found the chief also did not voice forcefully the concerns of lieutenants who questioned the legal justification for removing the encampment and who wanted to use helmets and batons, over her objections.

She also did not participate fully in planning, then confused the work of officers by using her cell phone to call into a command post while hovering on the edge of the scene. Investigators wrote that another unnamed lieutenant on the Quad was to act as incident commander, but that he abdicated his authority to Pike.

Pike’s decision to use pepper spray wasn’t supported by the evidence, they wrote. Though onlookers and some protesters partially encircled police, none acted against an officer.

Officers could move through the crowd, one with cuffed protesters, and police stepped both around and over the line of seated protesters, investigators wrote after reviewing more than 50 videos of the incident.

The pepper spray Pike used, MK-9, is not sanctioned for use by the department nor had officers been trained with it. Pike also used it incorrectly when he sprayed protesters from close range, the report said.

Neither campus leaders nor police followed state-mandated rules for planning or coordinating such an incident, investigators found.

“Even that inadequate plan was not followed … ,” Reynoso said. “For example, the plan did not have in it the very important matter of what they were going to do with anybody who was arrested. And that turned out to be rather crucial, because the reason the people (could) form around the arrestees is that (officers) had no place to send the arrestees.”

Added another member of the task force, law professor Alan Brownstein, “The Kroll people — who are very experienced police officers, they have worked for decades for different municipal police departments — they were shocked at the way our Police Department operated …

“Someone said that the police officers were encircled and threatened. I think the opinion of the Kroll investigators was, ‘That’s ridiculous.’ Any trained and experienced police force should be able to handle that situation without resorting to violence or pepper spray. And we agree, as a task force.”

Recommendations

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 a review of 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,” while taking a closer look at the number of sworn officers needed by the campus.

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.

Kroll’s recommendations broke from the task force in one regard: They suggest more uniform policies for UC’s departments, under one chief.

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.

UC President Mark Yudof formed the task force, selecting members nominated by campus groups, at the request of Katehi. In separate statements, both said they would study the reports closely.

Campus follow-up

In a letter to the campus, Katehi said the campus would act to respond to the report.

“I intend to have a preliminary draft of our plan to share with the campus community as quickly as possible,” she wrote.

Some of the protesters who last fall took to the Quad to protest the police’s use of force at UC Berkeley, just days earlier, rising tuition and the larger Occupy movement’s targets of corporate greed, did attend the town hall.

But at about 400 people, Freeborn stood about half empty — a far cry from the days after the incident, when students packed the seats in the wake of the pepper-spraying and thousands turned out to protest on the Quad.

Some expressed frustration with how long it took for the report to be published because it gave time for public outrage to dissipate. Sophia Kamran, a senior philosophy major who was pepper-sprayed, said that only served to “buy Katehi time.”

“This report hasn’t changed anything. … If you can’t accomplish anything, what is your purpose?” she said.

Katehi originally asked the task force 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.

Reynoso expressed frustration with the law, which stymies public review panels without subpoena power. “It does not permit the community to know what happened, who’s responsible for it and what can be done to correct it,” he said.

Judge Evelio 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.

Task force members have announced two more public meetings: from 4 to 6 p.m. Tuesday and from 10 a.m. to noon Thursday, April 19, both in the multipurpose room of the Student Community Center.

— Enterprise staff writer Anne Ternus-Bellamy contributed to this report. 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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