State report blasts UC-Davis over pepper spray incident

Story highlights

  • The report criticizes "systemic and repeated failures" by UC-Davis leaders
  • It calls police use of pepper spray on demonstrators "objectively unreasonable"
  • The November incident drew widespread criticism of UC-Davis authorities
  • There was "little evidence" that police faced violence from protesters, the report states
The pepper-spraying of student protesters at the University of California-Davis was an "objectively unreasonable" use of force by campus police, a state review of the incident concluded Wednesday.
Scenes of UC-Davis police Lt. John Pike spraying seated demonstrators with the irritant at near point-blank range went viral on the Internet and triggered widespread criticism of school authorities. A 190-page report by a University of California task force concluded that the incident "should and could have been prevented."
The report spreads blame for the events that led to the confrontation across several members of the UC-Davis leadership but said Pike was primarily responsible for the "objectively unreasonable decision" to pepper-spray the demonstrators.
"On balance, the evidence does not provide an objective, factual basis for Lt. Pike's purported belief that he was trapped, that any of his officers were trapped, or that the safety of their arrestees was at issue," the report states. "Further, there is little evidence that any protesters attempted to use violence against the police."
But while criticizing Pike, the report also cites "systemic and repeated failures" among campus administrators it said "put officers in the unfortunate situation in which they found themselves."
UC-Davis Campus Police Chief Annette Spicuzza has been on administrative leave since November, along with Pike and another officer who has not been identified. Neither Pike nor Spicuzza agreed to be interviewed for the investigation, largely conducted by an outside risk-management firm, the report notes -- but Pike provided "a lengthy statement" to the firm.
University administrators were worried that nonstudents from the Occupy movement in the city of Davis and other California cities would take part in the on-campus encampment that student demonstrators had set up. But they failed to determine whether that was true or whether "other reasonable alternatives" should have been used to ensure security before sending in police to break up the encampment, the report found.
The scope of the police operation was "ineffectively communicated," the report found. UC-Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi apparently believed that no force would be used, while the police operations plan called the use of force "highly likely in this type of situation based on past events."
The report found the campus police command structure "very dysfunctional," with Spicuzza's lieutenants refusing to follow orders and getting into "heated exchanges" with the chief during the protests.
Pike became an object of scorn after the protest. Pranksters across the Internet inserted the image of the helmeted officer into famous paintings, photos and movie scenes, while the hacker's collective Anonymous published his home and cell phone numbers online. Attempts to contact him for comment were unsuccessful Wednesday evening.
The report accuses him not only of using unreasonable force, but of misusing his now-iconic weapon. The type of pepper-spray canister he carried was "not an authorized weapon" under campus police guidelines, and the officers "were not trained in how to use it correctly," the report found.
"And Lt. Pike did not use it correctly," the report notes. The model he carried "is a higher pressure type of pepper spray than what officers normally carry on their utility belts," and is designed to be used at distances of six feet or more.