District Attorney and Sheriff Refer Pepper Spraying Matter to Attorney General


From the beginning, we were concerned about the ability of the Yolo County District Attorney’s Office and the Sheriff’s Department to do a fair investigation into the pepper spraying incident at UC Davis.

It quickly became clear, apparently, to the DA’s office and the Sheriff’s Department that this was a matter that, not only were they not well-equipped to investigate, but it would probably be more trouble than it was worth.

In a letter dated November 29, District Attorney Jeff Reisig and Yolo County Sheriff Ed Prieto ask Attorney General Kamala Harris to take over the investigation.

The Vanguard from the start believed the Attorney General was better equipped to handle this investigation, and believes the DA and Sheriff have acted appropriately in this matter.

In a joint letter they write, “After conducting a brief review of the issues surrounding the November 18, 2011, events on the campus of the University of California at Davis it is our conclusion that this is an incident that mandates the involvement of the Office of the Attorney General at the earliest of stages.”

They add, “While the traditional indicia requiring the Attorney General’s involvement, conflict or lack of resources, may not be present in this matter these events are not traditional in nature and call for an examination of events that have statewide ramifications.”

They rightly acknowledge that there needs to be an appearance of independent investigation and propriety, and that without such an action, there is the possibility of the public’s confidence being undermined.

“In the absence of such action it is our belief that the public’s confidence in the conclusions reached may be significantly undermined,” they write.

They also raise an important point that really what is at issue is the actions and policies of the UC Police, the UC Regents and the system-wide response to student protests.

They write, “While the issues involved occurred in Yolo County, they were also on a University of California campus, and the results of an examination into these events will impact all ten (10) University of California campuses.”

Resources were also a concern as they noted, “It has also become apparent that neither the Yolo County Sheriff’s Department, nor the Yolo County District Attorney’s Office possess the resources necessary to conduct the ‘quick’ review that both you and the public are expecting.”

One of our chief qualms was the ties between people like Lt. John Pike and investigators for the Yolo County District Attorney’s office.

The letter acknowledges this concern as well, writing, “Furthermore, because the Yolo County legal and law enforcement communities are relatively small, there are multiple perceived and/or possible legal conflicts that are likely to arise and undermine the effectiveness of any findings.”

There can be little doubt that the DA’s office and the Sheriff’s Department had little interest in having to deal with this highly volatile political “hot potato.”  There are good and sound reasons to have the Attorney General’s office investigate this matter and the letter hits on most of them clearly and succinctly.

There may be questions as to whether Attorney General Harris wants this matter.  Just a week ago, she said through her spokesperson that she was “deeply disturbed” by the videos of the incident.  However, she indicated that she wanted the local investigation to take its course before her office became involved.

Congressperson John Garamendi, who will be representing Davis, issued a statement, “I am appalled by the way in which students at UC Davis were treated. Campus police should know better than to cavalierly pepper spray peaceful protestors. The proud tradition of peaceful campus protests was shamelessly marred by these actions.”

“Every incident of violence – no matter who the perpetrator – is a distraction from the legitimate issues that the 99% movement has raised. Our public universities have seen drastic cuts, harming our ability to stay competitive in a tough economy, and thousands of students have been priced out of an education or burdened with debts that they cannot repay. I hope the entire university community understands that we’re all in this together,” he added.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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  1. Phil Coleman

    The issue of the legitimacy and propriety of the pepper spray incident has already been investigated through an exhaustive public scrutiny and discussion. One can’t even conceive of any markedly different finding from an official investigation. A contrary finding would be met with wide condemnation and charges of bias. Why then, even bother? The only relevant question that remains is, “Who gave the order?”

    A call for a task force or investigation is standard procedure from persons and institutions that seek delay and hope for a diminished call to “hang them all.” Meanwhile, those under attack can plan a survival strategy or prepare for a graceful exit in the form of a severance package.

  2. Rifkin

    I’m glad to see that DA Reisig and Sheriff Prieto followed my advice (which I suggested 8 or 9 days ago) to pass this up to AG Harris. There is no way the local DA or the local sheriff can fairly investigate a local law enforcement agency like the UCD PD. The DA and the sheriff need to work with all of the local PD’s hand in hand all the time. They know each other. They are friends. They have an inherent conflict of interest.

  3. AdRemmer

    Rifkin wrote: [quote]There is no way the local DA or the local sheriff can fairly investigate a local law enforcement agency like the UCD PD. [/quote]

    “No way” – Really? Why is it that judges & lawyers, at times permit local law enforcement and attorneys to be impaneled in criminal cases?


  4. David M. Greenwald

    “Why is it that judges & lawyers, at times permit local law enforcement and attorneys to be impaneled in criminal cases? “

    Because that is their job. However, conflicts arise when the investigation focuses on their colleagues in law enforcement.

  5. Rifkin

    [i]”Why is it that judges & lawyers at times permit local law enforcement and attorneys to be [b]impaneled[/b] in criminal cases?”[/i]

    For the record–and at the risk of having my sage wisdom removed by the nanny–the word you were searching for is empaneled, not impaneled.

    Empaneled means “to enroll (someone) on to a jury.” Impaneled should mean “to pierce or transfix with a sharp panel.”


  6. E Roberts Musser

    [quote]Empaneled means “to enroll (someone) on to a jury.” Impaneled should mean “to pierce or transfix with a sharp panel.” [/quote]

    From Merriam-Webster dictionary:

    [quote]Definition of IMPANEL

    transitive verb
    : to enroll in or on a panel [/quote]

    [quote]Definition of IMPALE

    transitive verb
    a : to pierce with or as if with something pointed; especially : to torture or kill by fixing on a sharp stake[quote]

  7. Rifkin

    Elaine, I stand corrected. I thought empaneled was the only acceptable spelling. But according to my dictionaries (as well as yours), both spellings are accepted.

    [i]”Thanks for the laughter.”[/i]

    You’re most welcome. I hope everyone gets the joke: that the What’s My Line panel was sharp!

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