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Pepper-spray lieutenant appeals for worker’s comp

Former UC Davis police Lt. John Pike gives instructions to Occupy UCD protesters on Nov. 18, 2011. He later pepper-sprayed those who continued to block the walkway.  He is appealing for worker’s compensation, claiming  psychiatric injury caused by the incident. Wayne Tilcock/Enterprise file photo

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From page A1 | July 26, 2013 | 19 Comments

The former police lieutenant who became the target of worldwide ire after dousing Occupy UC Davis protesters with pepper spray, John Pike, is appealing for worker’s compensation, claiming psychiatric injury caused by the Nov. 18, 2011, incident.

Pike’s case is scheduled for a mandatory settlement conference on Aug. 13 in Sacramento, according to the State Department of Industrial Relations website. If no settlement is reached, his case would go forward to trial or further hearing.

The Enterprise was not immediately able to reach Pike or attorneys associated with the case on Thursday. Both the UC Office of the President and UC Davis repeatedly have declined comment on police personnel involved with the pepper-spray incident, citing state confidentiality laws and university policy.

Bernie Goldsmith, a Davis attorney who has supported Occupy UC Davis, said a protest likely would be held outside.

“In an ideal democracy, violent suppressors of political speech are jailed and not rewarded. This sends a message that acts of violent political repression can be both insulated from real criminal prosecution and rewarded,” Goldsmith wrote in an email message.

Pike ceased to be a UCD employee in July 2012. He remains entitled to retirement credit for his years of service, a UCD spokesperson said at the time, but he was to receive no other payout. If Pike receives disability benefits, it will cover income, health and other benefits until he turns 65.

Pike, whose annual salary was $121,680, remained on paid leave for eight months while the pepper-spraying was investigated.

As dozens watched on Nov. 18, 2011, Pike sprayed a group of seated, unarmed students blocking a sidewalk on the Quad that officers were using to take away protesters arrested at a day-old encampment created in part because of opposition to repeated tuition hikes.

While a task force headed by former California Supreme Court Justice Cruz Reynoso and an outside security firm, Kroll Associates, found that Pike’s decision to spray the protesters unwarranted, an internal affairs investigation deemed his actions “reasonable.”

Video footage and photographs of the pepper-spraying went viral overnight. Pike became the subject of a mocking Internet meme and hackers posted his personal information online.

He received scores of threatening text, voice mail and email messages that Alameda County Superior Court Judge Evelio Grillo found so chilling that he ruled against releasing the names of other officers at the scene.

Among the irate, often vulgar email messages later provided to the media as a result of public records requests were some that threatened Pike and his family.

“Take out your rage on something else, like killing yourself,” reads one. “People should find your family and make them kneel and we will pepper-spray them all,” read another.

Grillo later ordered the release of other officer names in the report, in a court case since brought by The Sacramento Bee and The Los Angeles Times. On Tuesday, a state appellate court agreed that all names of officers in the task force reports be made public.

The release of the names is on hold while the UC police officers union decides whether to appeal to the state Supreme Court.

Chief Matt Carmichael fired Pike despite the conclusions of the internal affairs investigation, according to confidential documents obtained by The Bee that included the 76-page internal affairs report by two outside firms hired by UCD, Van Dermyden Allison Law Corp. of Sacramento and Yorba Linda-based Norman A. Traub Associates.

Their investigators wrote that while the viral video of Pike spraying protesters was “disturbing,” his use of pepper spray was “reasonable under the circumstances.” They noted that Pike warned the protesters before taking action and that he spoke against the decision to remove the encampment.

A panel made up of a UCD police captain and the campus chief compliance officer recommended to Carmichael an “exonerated finding” on use of force, but concluded that Pike’s “serious errors of judgment and deficiencies of leadership” warranted demotion or suspension.

Carmichael wrote in an April 2012 letter that Pike bore “significant responsibility for the outcome,” according to the newspaper’s account.

His stated reasons for firing Pike included actions going against former Chief Annette Spicuzza’s wishes to use “a minimum amount of force,” objecting to her request that officers not wear a helmet or carry batons and performing “poorly” when he took over control of the scene from another lieutenant, according to The Bee.

UCD promoted Carmichael, another lieutenant not present during the pepper-spraying, after Spicuzza retired while under investigation for her role in the incident.

Pike told internal affairs investigators that pepper spray was a tool “to gain compliance, so that I can get my troops out of there, my suspects out of there, and get a job done,” according to The Bee.

The internal affairs report said that protesters had surrounded police, The Bee reported — a conclusion that differed from that of the Kroll investigators and the Reynoso task force, who found that protesters and a crowd of onlookers neither entirely surrounded police nor threatened their safety.

The pepper spray Pike used, MK-9, also was not sanctioned for use by the department and officers were not trained in its use, according to the task force report. In addition, Pike used it incorrectly by spraying protesters from close range, according to the report, and ordered a second officer, Alexander Lee, forward to spray protesters.

The task force and Kroll reports, which placed blame on Chancellor Linda Katehi and other top campus decision-makers as much as on police, noted that Pike and another lieutenant had a heated disagreement with Spicuzza, questioning the legal rationale for removing a small Occupy encampment.

Once on the Quad with about 35 officers, another lieutenant acting as incident commander effectively turned over his authority of the increasingly tense, chaotic scene to Pike.

A former Marine sergeant, Pike had 17 years of law enforcement experience at the time of the incident. Hired by UCD in 2001, he was twice honored for bravery by the department, including once for protecting fellow officers from being stabbed by a UCD Medical Center patient.

Pike also was identified by a former colleague, Calvin Chang, who is gay and Asian-American, as using a homophobic slur. Chang’s 2005 harassment and discrimination suit against the department for that and other actions was settled out of court.

The Enterprise identified Lee, the officer who used pepper spray on the protesters at Pike ’s direction, based on still photographs, video and university documents. UCD has not revealed his identity, but has said a second officer involved was no longer employed.

The Yolo County District Attorney’s Office decided against filing criminal charges against protesters or police. UC later agreed to a $1 million settlement with protesters sprayed or arrested during the incident.

Cory Golden

Cory Golden

The Enterprise's higher-education and congressional reporter. http://about.me/cory_golden
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Discussion | 19 comments

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  • Fred HarveyJuly 25, 2013 - 6:20 pm

    Pike was a former Marine? He is a seasoned police officer? Then how in the world could his inappropriate actions at the scene traumatize him? His application for Worker's Comp is laughable and should be denied. He is the cause of his own trauma. Let him live with it. How can such a brave he-man be disturbed by a bit of self-inflicted terror? He is attempting to milk the system. His folly has already cost tax payers 1 million+ dollars. Why should we just keep paying this moron and rewarding him for his grand standing stupidity?

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  • Brian RileyJuly 25, 2013 - 8:34 pm

    I wouldn't be surprised if Pike's claim is disingenuous. He would no doubt be aware of a trend occurring among police executives who abuse the disability system. For example, the CHP itself made the following statement on its own website: "The media continues to highlight retired California Highway Patrol (CHP) executives who retired on disability. The nature of their disability claims, and in some instances, the nature of subsequent employment raised questions about the appropriateness of a disability retirement." http://www.chp.ca.gov/workerscomp

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  • Rich RifkinJuly 25, 2013 - 9:10 pm

    Claiming "disability" retirement among public safety officers (police and fire) is very common in Davis. In the June, 2010 CalPERS report, the Davis public safety plan had 68 living retirees who had a "service retirement" and 37 who had a "disability retirement." The following year, those numbers grew to 70 and 40 respectively, as 3 of the next 5 who retired claimed they were disabled. In other words, in Davis, it is now 4 in 11 retirees in public safety (I don't know the police vs. fire breakdown) who claim to be disabled at the time of retirement. I don't know if they have to have a documented and serious injury on the job to claim that status. I doubt it gets them any more money. I suspect it simply allows them to retire earier than age 50.

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  • bmurdocJuly 26, 2013 - 6:55 am

    Does anybody who works for the CA NOT make over $100,000 a year? What a stupid state.

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  • bmurdocJuly 26, 2013 - 6:56 am

    CA *government*

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  • ArnnmannJuly 26, 2013 - 12:07 pm

    Yeah, who would even WANT to make $100,000 a year? California must be really screwed up.

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  • JohnJuly 26, 2013 - 10:32 am

    This guy deserves a pepper spray in the face, kick in the ass goodbye, and bid a fond farewell.

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  • el_donaldoJuly 26, 2013 - 10:37 am

    Um, how much money was he making a year again?! Jesus, why is that not the story.

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  • wiseoldsnailJuly 26, 2013 - 11:44 am

    "“exonerated finding” on use of force, but concluded that Pike’s “serious errors of judgment and deficiencies of leadership” warranted demotion or suspension." can't have it both ways. either he is exonerated because assaulting a bunch of non-violent, unarmed students with chemicals is perfectly fine, or it's not fine, aka was a serious error in judgement which warrants demotion or suspension. if it's not fine, it's aggravated assault ie criminal.

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  • RidiculousJuly 26, 2013 - 12:17 pm

    Are you kidding me, this clown wants compensation??? And he made over 100k? I'm all sorts of confused...

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  • Diane DenizenJuly 27, 2013 - 1:40 pm

    This Pike guy is a scam merchant! Plan and simple. I hope they send him down for a long time for fraud. As other commentators have alluded, he is a hard man, now he wants to play the sissy-because it just might be profitable, he's just filth, nothing more!

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  • Howard ZochlinskiJuly 27, 2013 - 4:18 pm

    Let me understand: the perp goes for compensation from the State for been condemned as the criminal he is, while UC (the State) fought in Court to not compensate his victims? With that mentality, it's no wonder UC cops protect rapists (like Robert Lugo) and arrest innocent individual when they have personal vendettas (such as my case).

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  • Pike has the right to applyJuly 28, 2013 - 12:59 pm

    I don't necessarily agree. For one thing, Pike was used as the fall guy by the UCD police department. There were many police officers involved, but only his name was released. He received death threats and was concerned about his own safety and the safety of his family. While the chief of police was allowed to "retire" (with salary-for-life and generous benefits, I'm sure), Pike was fired. He was humiliated worldwide and lost his reputation. Of course it was a terrible experience for him to go through. He has every right to apply for Workers Comp or Disability pay. The process for approval will be long, stressful and will require professional assessments. One thing Kent State taught my generation is that things can turn ugly very quickly. We learned a simple lesson - if a police, fire or military officer gives you an instruction, follow the instruction. Today's generation should learn the same lesson from the Zimmerman / Martin situation - if the police gives you an instruction, follow it.

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  • KyeshinkaJuly 29, 2013 - 8:29 am

    Anyone else slightly satisfied that he went through some well-deserved hell for what he did? Not enough, apparently. But some. Maybe these pigs will learn that everything they do is videotaped and there will be consequences. Job termination wasn't enough.

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  • medicontheedgeJuly 29, 2013 - 7:29 pm

    The increasingly militarized police forget they are public servents, and view the citizens they are supposed to protect and serve as enemy combatants, and treat us that way. When their misconduct is publicized, they have the "blue line" to protect them, as in this case. Be afraid. Be very afraid.

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  • elcoJuly 31, 2013 - 8:10 pm

    This creep should have been charged with assault but of course the police never are, but to think he wants to actually benefit from what he did is sickening.

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  • Brian RileyJuly 31, 2013 - 8:56 pm

    Of course he should have been charged, and possibly even jailed. You can thank Yolo County D.A. Jeff Reisig and California Attorney General Kamala Harris for not prosecuting him.

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  • Search4beautyOctober 27, 2013 - 5:48 pm

    Apparently, he got his settlement. Wow.

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  • Fred HarveyOctober 28, 2013 - 4:50 am

    Apparently it pays very well to be a UC thug.

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