UC Davis Releases Report on Student Pepper Spraying, but Removes Campus Cops’ Names

Lindsey Kratochwill

Thousands of Occupy demonstrators gathered Nov. 21, 2011, to protest UC Davis police who pepper sprayed students during a demonstration three days before. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

The Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­i­for­nia at Davis today released its report of the now-infa­mous pep­per-spray­ing of stu­dent demon­stra­tors by cam­pus police last fall.

Accord­ing to the so-called Reynoso report, made avail­able this after­noon on the uni­ver­si­ty’s web­site, the pep­per spray­ing inci­dent that took place on Novem­ber 18, 2011 should and could have been prevented.”

The report, con­duct­ed by a task force chaired by for­mer Cal­i­for­nia Supreme Court Asso­ciate Jus­tice Cruz Reynoso was made avail­able on the this after­noon, accom­pa­ny­ing an ear­li­er report com­plet­ed in late Feb­ru­ary by Kroll Inc., a risk man­age­ment firm. 

The protest, which took place at UC Davis on Nov. 18, became a viral sen­sa­tion, with images and videos of police pep­per spray­ing pas­sive pro­test­ers as they sat on the ground. Eleven were treat­ed for the effects of pep­per spray, and 10 peo­ple were arrest­ed, nine of whom were stu­dents. UC Davis stu­dents, inspired by the Occu­py move­ment, were stag­ing protests against tuition hikes.

On Nov. 21, Chan­cel­lor Lin­da Kate­hi announced a task force that would inves­ti­gate events sur­round­ing the arrests, includ­ing com­mu­ni­ca­tions from the police to the admin­is­tra­tion.” Though the admin­is­tra­tion ini­tial­ly set a dead­line of 30 days, this turned into months, and when the report was final­ly sched­uled to be released on March 6, it hit a roadblock.

Attor­neys for the Fed­er­at­ed Uni­ver­si­ty Police Offi­cers Asso­ca­tion (FUPOA), which rep­re­sents the cam­pus police at UC Davis, filed a law­suit to block the dis­tri­b­u­tion of the report, cit­ing laws that pro­tect the con­fi­den­tial­i­ty of peace offi­cers’ per­son­nel records. The court issued a tem­po­rary restrain­ing order, delay­ing the release of the report.

I very much regret the delay in get­ting this report to you,” said Reynoso in a pub­lic meet­ing held to dis­cuss the report this evening. The best inter­est of the com­mu­ni­ty would have been to have the report to you the ear­li­est as possible.” 

In the pub­lic meet­ing, held at UC Davis and streamed online, Reynoso said that he does not par­tic­u­lar­ly blame the lawyers or peo­ple who brought on the law­suit, but rather blames the Cal­i­for­nia leg­is­la­tion, com­mon­ly known as the Police Offi­cer’s Bill of Rights.

On Tues­day, the Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­i­for­nia and the FUPOA reached an agree­ment, and an Oak­land court lift­ed the stay, allow­ing for the release of the report.

As a result of this agree­ment, the names of the police offi­cers involved in the inci­dent are excised from the report. Though the media already knows all too well the iden­ti­ties of Lt. John Pike and Police Chief Annette Spicuz­za, about 10 oth­er offi­cers are iden­ti­fied only with names such as Offi­cer P or Offi­cer O. FUPOA argued in court that releas­ing such names to the pub­lic could result in com­pro­mis­ing their safe­ty. Accord­ing to Pike’s attor­ney, the offi­cer — who was seen on the viral video pep­per spray­ing stu­dents indis­crim­i­nate­ly—has received in excess of 10,000 harass­ing texts and e‑mails per week.

The report found that the uni­ver­si­ty’s harsh treat­ment of stu­dent demon­stra­tors stemmed from a con­cern about their rela­tion­ship to the broad­er Occu­py move­ment and the poten­tial par­tic­i­pa­tion of non-stu­dents in the UC Davis encamp­ment. Both the ear­li­er Kroll report and the Reynoso report released today have found such a con­cern to be unfounded:

To date, the asser­tion that many non-affil­i­ates [non-stu­dents] were involved in the Occu­py move­ment encamp­ment on the Quad has not been sub­stan­ti­at­ed. The sta­tus of the pro­test­ers arrest­ed on Nov. 18 does not sup­port the con­tention that many non-affil­i­ates were involved in these events.

The report also chas­tizes the team of admin­is­tra­tors and cam­pus police offi­cers who made deci­sions about the han­dling of stu­dent demon­stra­tors for fail­ing to inves­ti­gate whether or not there were actu­al­ly sig­nif­i­cant num­bers of non-stu­dents present — which could have been achieved by ask­ing to see stu­dent identification.

With this rea­son­ing, the report con­cludes, there was no imme­di­ate need to order the police to take down the tents on Fri­day, Nov. 18.”

The report also found that the team of admin­is­tra­tors mak­ing deci­sions — referred to as the Lead­er­ship Team,” — did not suf­fi­cient­ly com­mu­ni­cate orders, leav­ing the deci­sion of whether and how to remove stu­dent demon­stra­tors large­ly to the inter­pre­ta­tion of cam­pus police.

The Lead­er­ship Team is described as oper­at­ing under an infor­mal, con­sen­sus based, deci­sion-mak­ing process that is flex­i­ble in its con­fig­u­ra­tion. As Kroll describes it, The Lead­er­ship Team did not have a for­mal name or ros­ter of mem­bers, met via con­fer­ence call, and did not have an agreed upon method to com­mu­ni­cate or record deci­sions.’ This struc­ture failed to effec­tive­ly sup­port man­ag­ing the events of Novem­ber 18.
Despite this lack of con­crete plan, the report found that the activ­i­ties did not tran­spire accord­ing to plan, cre­at­ing a sit­u­a­tion full of con­fu­sion. There was uncer­tain­ty about the legal­i­ty of remov­ing the pro­test­ers, and the use of the MK‑9 aerosol pep­per spray was not autho­rized, nor were offi­cers trained in its use. 
In reflec­tion, the task force pro­vides rec­om­men­da­tions to the admin­is­tra­tion, the UC Davis Police Depart­ment and the for the entire com­mu­ni­ty based on these find­ings. Notably rec­om­mend­ing that poli­cies an pro­ce­dures should be clear­ly artic­u­lat­ed and com­ply with basic aspects such as free­dom of speech and defin­ing non-vio­lent ver­sus active resistence and violent.
Lind­sey Kra­tochwill, an In These Times edi­to­r­i­al intern, is stu­dent at North­west­ern University’s Medill School of Journalism.
Limited Time:

SUBSCRIBE TO IN THESE TIMES MAGAZINE FOR JUST $1 A MONTH