Sacto 9-1-1
April 11, 2012
Report: UC Davis pepper spray incident 'should and could have been prevented'

Occupy Pepper Spray.JPGBy Sam Stanton
sstanton@sacbee.com

The 190-page pepper spray report is now on the UC-Davis website, www.ucdavis.edu, and comes to a stark conclusion:

"The pepper spraying incident that took place on November 18, 2011, should and could have been prevented."

The report by the Cruz Reynoso task force found that UC Davis officials were highly concerned by other Occupy protests and the possibility that students could be endangered by protests from outside.

PDF: UC Davis 'Pepper Spray Incident' task force report

The first tents went up Nov. 17 on the UCD quad, but by then university officials had already determined that camping on the Quad is not legal but could be troublesome to stop.

The biggest concern was from harm that could come to students from outsiders drawn to campus by the protests, with UCD administrators "repeatedly" voicing that concern, the report states.

"As our report will indicate these concerns were not supported by any evidence obtained by Kroll."

The report found that UCD officials were being told that most of the protesters were "non-affiliates," people from outside campus who were not students. Campus Police Chief Annette Spicuzza, now on leave from her post, estimated 80 percent of the Quad campers were not students, an assertion challenged by student affairs staffers and others, the report found.

The chief's assertion "has not been substantiated," the report found.

Even if it had been true, the report, concludes, "this concern would not justify ordering the immediate dismantling of the encampment."

Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi told investigators for the report that she envisioned "a limited operation in which police would demand that the tents be taken down but would use no other force," the report found.

But other top-level officials did not get that message because the chancellor "did not effectively communicate this" during deliberations on what to do.

Spicuzza, the police chief, initially tried to convince officers not to wear riot gear or use batons or pepper spray, but she was unsuccessful, the report states.

"There is also evidence that she wanted her officers to withdraw if they encountered resistance," the report found, but because investigators could not interview her they did not come up with additional details.

No one in the campus leadership took responsibility for ensuring they understood the way the police operation was to be handled, the report found.

It also found evidence of disagreement over when the operation should be done. Katehi wanted the tents removed during the day, and police moved in for a 3 p.m. deadline.

But one dispatcher said Spicuza had said "we should go in at night."

"No member of the leadership team recalls such concerns...," the report found.

There also was confusion over whether officers had a basic legal right to remove the tents, and even on the day of the incident were questioning whether removing the tents during the day was legal because the prohibition was against "overnight camping."

The report found that key decisions were made without enough explanation, that they "were often understood to mean different things to different people."

"These poorly understood decisions were then communicated to the Police Department as 'executive orders,'" the report found.

The report also found a "considerable lack of leadership" and "many breaches of protocol" in the way police handled the incident.

With a 3 p.m. deadline for the students to leave, the police "entered the Quad at 3:15 p.m. in a skirmish line."

Over the next 15 or 20 minutes, police gave at least six orders for protesters to disperse, then began moving to take down the tents and make arrests at 3:35 p.m.

At about 3:47 p.m., as police waited for transportation to remove the arrestees, "the crowd surrounded the police and arrestees" and some time before 4 p.m. the pepper spray was used.

But the report found police did not follow state or national guidelines in such an event, and that Lt. John Pike, seen on video spraying students, and another officer involved in the planning had failed to arrange for transportation.

Officials also failed to warn Davis Police, "the closest quick-reaction force" if there was a problem, of what was about to occur on campus.

That, the report found, was a "significant oversight."

The report also addresses one of the key unanswered questions: why did Pike resort to using pepper spray?

Officers indicated that "they apparently felt that they were surrounded by a hostile mob" and that the use of the pepper spray was necessary to get themselves and their arrestees out of the Quad.

But the report found that there may have been alternatives to using the pepper spray.

For instance, "Officer F.," who is not named because of a court fight that redacted most officer names, was able to walk through the crowd and place suspects into a police car.

"Officer P was able to step over a line of seated protesters and walk through the crowd to met with Davis PD who arrived to provide mutual aid," the report found.

"Lt. Pike's actions and body language include stepping over seated protesters to get to their faces, a move that would not generally be undertaken with a hostile crowd," the report found.

It added that Pike was able to return 20 minutes after the pepper spraying without riot gear on and that he and another officer asked protesters to remove some tents.

"The tents were removed without incident," the report found.

The report also found that officers had not been trained in the use of the larger pepper spray canisters that were deployed and that its use was "not reasonable use of force."

"The command and leadership structure of the (campus police) is very dysfunctional," the report adds. "Lieutenants refused to follow directives of the chief."

This conclusion stemmed in part from "heated exchanges" Spicuzza and her underlings had about how to proceed with the operation and her eventual "concession that her officers will do things their own way and there is nothing she can do about it."

The report finds fault with many administrators from Katehi on down for failing to specify what actions should be taken, leaving orders that it was "not to be like Berkeley," where an earlier demonstration had turned ugly.

But is especially harsh about the failure of police leadership to insist that the operation be undertaken at 3 a.m., as they wanted, instead of Katehi's preference for 3 p.m. that Friday. A nighttime operation might have drawn fewer protesters, but Spicuzza failed to object to the afternoon timing, the report found.

The report also addresses the notion that video of the incident shows police were facing a hostile crowd chanting "If you let them go, we will let you leave." That chant was being made, the report found, but was being shouted down by "the majority of the crowd almost as quickly as they started."

"Nor did they appear to reflect an actual intent by the crowd to prevent police from leaving with their prisoners," it found. Pike and another officer "were able to move through the crowd freely" and stepped over seated protesters three times "just minutes before Lt. Pike sprayed those same protesters."

The report does not recommend disciplinary action, but has a number of recommendations about how to improve communication and the police force, and how to better respect the freedom of speech and unique aspects of life on a university campus.

The Kroll report, the investigative effort the task force relied on, also is detailed and highly critical at times.

It found that the use of pepper spray "was flawed and unnecessary," but also blamed "the systemic and repeated failures" of UCD administrators that "put the officers in the unfortunate situation in which they found themselves."

PHOTO CREDIT: FILE - In this Nov. 18, 2011 file photo, University of California, Davis Police Lt. John Pike uses pepper spray to move Occupy UC Davis protesters while blocking their exit from the school's quad in Davis, Calif. The University of California plans to publish a long-awaited report on the pepper-spraying of student demonstrators by UC Davis police last fall online at noon Wednesday, April 11, 2012 a day after an Alameda County judge approved its publication without the names of most officers involved in the Nov. 18 clash. Wayne Tilcock, The Davis Enterprise via the Associated Press.

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