Last week Judge Evelio Grillo of the Alameda County Superior Court issued his final ruling on the matter of the release of the pepper spray report. Based on that ruling, it appears that the University of California will wait until at least April 21 before releasing any of the report.
“In ruling almost entirely in favor of UC arguments for full public disclosure of reports from the UC Davis task force, Alameda County Superior Court Judge Evelio Grillo imposed a stay until April 20 to allow campus police union attorneys time to prepare an appeal if they decide to do so,” UC General Counsel Charles Robinson said Thursday in a statement.
“I have been informed that, as a result, the task force chaired by former California Supreme Court Associate Justice Cruz Reynoso has decided to postpone public release of the report beyond the first week of April,” he continued.
“Justice Reynoso, in a March 20 letter to UC President Mark G. Yudof, had proposed releasing the full task force report the first week of April, subject to further legal action. He emphasized the importance of providing a thorough account of the events of Nov. 18, 2011, along with the task force’s recommendations and the accompanying report by the Kroll consulting group,” Mr. Robinson said. “I understand that Justice Reynoso will confer with task force members to reschedule public release of the report.”
ACLU Staff Attorney Michael Risher explained to the Vanguard where the process current stands.
“There are basically three classes of information,” Mr. Risher explained. “There is a bunch of information, maybe half the report, which UC is free to release right now.”
This is the information that Charles Robinson is referring to and that Cruz Reynoso is holding onto, in hopes that they can release all of the information at once.
“There is a second class of information that deals with information concerning the police in some manner, the judge ruled in his opinion, UC should be able to release all of that, the police disagree, he is giving the police time to ask the court of appeals to step in, so UC is not allowed to release that information for 21 days,” he said.
Finally he said, “There is a third class of information that comprises only the names of all of the officers aside from Lt. Pike and the chief of police and the Judge has said that for now at least, he is not going to allow the university to release those names because the police have submitted specific evidence that Officer Pike was the subject of – it sounds like – a lot of harassment.”
In an op-ed this weekend, in the Woodland Daily Democrat, the paper criticized what they called an “inexcusable delay of report on pepper-spray.”
They note the judge’s ruling and write, “We hope this is the final step toward giving the public access to information, most of which should have been released weeks ago.”
“Under the California Public Records Act, the public has a right to access information about the investigation into the pepper-spaying of students by police at UC Davis. It was an ugly display of overreaction to an Occupy protest,” the paper continued. “State law requires that public agencies such as the university provide documents upon request. Yet UC officials refused to make public the large portion of the investigative report that a judge ruled was open to the public.”
The paper disputes Justice Cruz Reynoso’s preference that the task force report not be released in piecemeal fashion as that “would provide a skewed view of our findings and undercut the rationale behind our recommendations.”
The paper argues, on the contrary, “Making public almost all of the report a few weeks ago and then releasing the remaining small portion that has been under contention is hardly a ‘piecemeal’ distribution. Moreover, the delay is a violation of state law, which says such information should be made public in an expeditious manner.”
“The long delay in releasing any of the pepper-spraying report does not reflect well on the university. It leaves questions unanswered about exactly what took place on the Davis campus, what caused police to act as they did and if the university is trying to hide anything,” the paper continues. “Quick release of public information can put these concerns to rest, which is one of the primary reasons California has a strong Public Records Act. Unfortunately, it is abused too often.”
The real concern at this time is both with the ability of the police union to delay the release of the report beyond the April 21 time line through the appeals process, and the ability of the police to withhold the names of the officers from public scrutiny.
As the Sacramento Bee argued earlier in March, “To make any informed recommendations about the future of police actions at demonstrations and decision-making by administrators, the campus and the public deserve a complete account of the events that took place on Nov. 18 – no names or actions redacted.”
The Bee continued, “In the Reynoso Task Force report, the public deserves to know the full who, what, where, when and why of events – not anonymous ‘Officer A’ or ‘Action X’ redactions.”
However, the Stockton Record this morning argues the need to simply get the report out, with or without the names.
They write in an editorial this morning, “Fine, leave the names out for now. Give attorneys time to appeal. But let’s get the report out, which the judge himself said ‘is a compilation of public information that would have been available to an investigative journalist or member of the public who took the time and expended the effort to make a Public Records Act request, review videos posted on YouTube and elsewhere, and locate and interview witnesses.’ “
They argue, “More important than the officers’ identity or any disciplinary action they may or may not face is the report’s recommendations and the reaction by university officials to those recommendations.”
“The idea is not to get police officers harassed – and there has been some – but to spell out guidelines for future police action in dealing with peaceful acts of civil disobedience,” they write.
The Daily Bruin, the newspaper of UCLA, writes this morning about another incident involving arrests of students for failing to disperse and obstructing an officer at the UC Board of Regents meeting on Thursday.
“Some details of what happened are fuzzy, lost behind the line of police who were blocking off the arrests as they took place,” the paper writes. “But one thing is clear. Officers used excessive force to detain protesters, who were in the process of following police’s request to exit the building.”
The paper called the actions of the university police “deeply disheartening,” and argues that it calls to mind the incidents at UC Davis and UC Berkeley involving pepper spray and batons, respectively.
Writes the paper, “These events send the message that students calling for change will be answered with violence.”
It goes on to note, “Despite the distractions, protesters made valid points. The regents chose to hold their March meeting when all undergraduate UC campuses were on spring break – a time when it was less likely that students would make the trip to UC San Francisco’s Mission Bay campus for the board’s meeting.”
The paper urges the university to take a greater look at its protest policies.
“UC police released a report on the use of batons at UC Berkeley, a report on the pepper spraying at UC Davis is pending release, and a systemwide review will be out within two weeks,” they write.
“We ask that the university carefully consider its policies about the use of force against protesters, and take student input into account in the process,” they continue. “There should be clear guidelines about what level of force is acceptable to use against protesters, rather than relying on officers’ judgments at the scene.”
The editorial concludes, “As students come together and speak out against the direction the UC is moving in, it is important that the University respond with more than violence. UC leaders should extend a hand and begin a conversation.”
The Vanguard agrees at this point with Cruz Reynoso, and prefers the entire report to come out in three weeks. If the court stays the release further, then the calculation has to start to change.
We would prefer the court to release the names of the officers involved.
We agree with Michael Risher of the ACLU’s view: Given the length of time that has passed since the incident, he is not sure that new revelations would bring forth the same level of harassment that Lt. Pike experienced in the days immediately following the highly publicized and volatile incident.
“It’s not clear to me that releasing the names of other officers that weren’t involved in such a notorious way of officer Pike… or didn’t pepper spray anyone but were just witnesses, would subject them to any sort of harassment, particularly now months later after people’s passions have cooled,” he told the Vanguard last week.
The critical question is whether the evidence supports the argument that the officers would suffer some sort of harassment and how important it is to have that information out there right now, he said.
“Eventually that information has to be released,” Mr. Risher added. “Whether it needs to be released right now, if the rest of the report is comprehensive enough that it paints a fairly complete picture, I don’t know whether it’s worth it.”
However, with anonymity comes lack of accountability, which Mr. Risher said “is why eventually these names will have to be released.”
We agree, the sooner the better. We also agree that the process should play itself out. Coming out now versus April 21 is not a huge deal. However, pushing it much further past that becomes a problem.
To the Vanguard, something has to be released before the end of the school year, whether it is half the report or the report minus names, something needs to be in the public realm.
—David M. Greenwald reporting