Despite the pepper-spray incident and ensuing media frenzy, largely staying out of the limelight was Vice Chancellor John Meyer. This despite the fact that the vice chancellor is the direct line supervisor to the police chief in the UC Davis organizational chart.
The report from the Reynoso Task Force, along with the Kroll investigations, however, demonstrates that John Meyer played a critical role leading up to the fateful decisions on the fateful day in November. Not only was he the supervisor to the police chief, but he was part of the ill-defined and poorly-named “leadership team,” which made the decision to remove the tents.
The Vanguard will, over the coming days, be analyzing the role each key player had in the pepper-spray incident, and we begin with John Meyer.
In writing this analysis, the Vanguard was informed by spokespersons for the university that Vice Chancellor John Meyer is declining comment at this time.
In a way, Vice Chancellor Meyer foresaw this problem in the days and weeks leading up to the event. Following the media attention focused on the dismantling of the Occupy Oakland encampment by police on Oct. 25, 2011, Vice Chancellor Meyer sent an e-mail to Chancellor Katehi, Provost Hexter and other administrative staff.
On the one hand he wrote that “if protesters attempted to camp on the Quad, ‘Camping is not allowed on the Quad, however, the removal of occupants may create a scene with Police removing individuals and property that could be troublesome.’ “
But on the other hand, “We do worry that if camping persists it could attract individuals that have no affiliation with the campus which raises other security issues. We are assessing our legal options and are not inclined to allow tents or structures.”
Later he expressed similar concern in an interview that was conducted after the November 18 event. He explained, “Our context at the time was seeing what’s happening in the City of Oakland, seeing what’s happening in other municipalities across the country, and not being able to see a scenario where [a UC Davis Occupation] ends well . . . “
He continued: “Do we lose control and have non-affiliates become part of an encampment? So my fear is a longterm occupation with a number of tents where we have an undergraduate student and a non-affiliate and there’s an incident.”
He would go on to render one of the more baffling, if not ironic, statements in the report: “And then I’m reporting to a parent that a nonaffiliated has done this unthinkable act with your daughter, and how could we let that happen?”
The irony is that, through his actions, some unthinkable act did occur with people’s daughters, and sons. But moreover, it shows an almost paternalistic mindset that seems more appropriate fifty years ago than today.
Indeed, the report goes to great lengths to demonstrate that the fears of the administration, including John Meyer, were not only ill-founded, they were not properly investigated. As one commenter noted yesterday, the unaffiliated protesters were largely either recent alums or otherwise Davis residents. And even those were small in number.
However, in fairness to Vice Chancellor Meyer, the Kroll report continues by saying that, according to Meyer, “My concern wasn’t non-affiliates in the Mrak Hall group. My concern was playing the chess move forward and you got an occupation for four weeks and people are attracted.”
On the other hand, Assistant Vice Chancellor Griselda Castro spent time with the activists and on the evening of Thursday, November 17, she reported “to the leadership team later that night that ‘the only non-affiliates I saw were people from the interfaith communities providing food … and they were not spending the night.’ “
However, Kroll reports that this assessment was not shared by campus police, who believed that the majority were not affiliated with the university but, rather, were part of the Occupy movement.
In their analysis, Kroll writes: “Leading up to the eviction, Chancellor Katehi and Vice Chancellor Meyer were not swayed by the reports from Student Affairs staff that the Occupy activists were overwhelmingly comprised of students.”
Indeed, they added, “Even after nine of the ten individuals arrested on November 18 were found to be students (or recent alumni), the perception that there was a significant presence of non-affiliates persisted.”
This is a critical discussion, because it leads directly to the decision to remove the tents based, of course, on a notion of safety to the students – an outcome that was again ironically undermined by the ineffective execution of the flawed operation.
The decision not to allow the tents seems to have been arrived at by John Meyer, with consultation with others including Vice Chancellor Fred Wood.
Kroll reports, “Chief Spicuzza also raised the question of whether a ‘definitive answer’ was reached as to whether tents would be allowed on the Quad. Vice Chancellor Wood and Meyer subsequently emailed each other confirming their opinion that tents would not be allowed.”
The Kroll report makes an apparent typo in stating, “Wood emailed Wood to confirm his understanding that ‘if the tents stayed up for some period of time then Police [are] going to take them down.’ ” In a footnote it notes the email exchange was between Vice Chancellor Meyer and Vice Chancellor Wood, but it is less than clear who sent it to whom in this instance.
The report faulted the leadership team for ineffectively communicating the scope of the police operations to remove the tents.
The task force writes, “No members of the Leadership Team took responsibility for ensuring that all the members of the Team including the Police Chief had a common understanding of the scope and conduct of the police operation to be executed on Nov. 18.”
They add, “We have no indication that members of the Leadership Team other than the Police Chief were aware of or reviewed the campus police department’s operations plan.”
To some extent this failure also has to fall on Vice Chancellor Meyer. The report notes, “No attempt appears to have been made by either the Chief or Vice Chancellor Meyer, her most direct superior, to confirm that the understanding by the police as to how the operation was to proceed was consistent with the goals of the civilian administration of the University.”
The report indicates the members of the leadership team, including the vice chancellor, shared in a decision to remove the tents on Friday.
The Task Force writes: “The members of the Leadership Team, including Chancellor Katehi, Vice Chancellor Meyer, Vice Chancellor Wood, Police Chief Spicuzza, and others, share responsibility for many of the decisions discussed and criticized in this report.”
While there is shared blame here, Vice Chancellor Meyer, due to his position, gets singled out.
They write that he “was an early advocate for the position that tents on the Quad would have to be taken down. He also understood that the deployment of police on Nov. 18 would require the use of physical force and supported this decision.”
They add, “Accordingly, he bears some significant responsibility for the decision to use the police and to risk a confrontation with protesters on Nov. 18. Vice Chancellor Meyer also exercised administrative responsibility over UCDPD.”
Here they hammer him: “In that capacity, he, more than other members of the Leadership Team, should have taken steps to determine if police leadership had concerns about the contemplated operation and to ensure that those concerns were understood and evaluated by the Leadership Team.”
In fact, the report faults the leadership team for the failure to understand the police concerns for the operation, particularly the change from an early morning 3:00 am tent removal to a 3:00 pm one.
The Task Force reports, “The Chancellor was concerned that Friday night was a ‘party night’ and that the encampment might ‘become a place for fun [and] the use of alcohol and drugs and everything.’ Leadership Team members on the call other than Chief Spicuzza worried that conducting the operation in the dark might be unsafe.”
They write, “As noted in the Kroll Report, the timing of a police operation is an important tactical decision. Conducting the operation during the daytime may have jeopardized the legal basis for the operation.”
In addition,” It may well have contributed to the size of the crowd responding to the police action, a factor that increased the likelihood of a confrontation between the protesters and the police.”
Kroll notes that “the evidence indicates that it was Chancellor Katehi who chose this time frame…and that police leadership opposed this time frame but failed to register a strong objection to it with the Leadership Team.”
Furthermore, Kroll views that the “timing of any police operation is a key tactical consideration” to be determined by the police chief. The Task Force writes, “Chancellor Katehi did in fact make a tactical decision: that the tents would be removed during the day.”
Kroll notes, however, that there was no objection by the police chief to this tactical intrusion, stating, “Meyer stated that there was no ‘push back’ regarding the 3:00 pm Friday afternoon time from Chief Spicuzza or anyone else on the conference call” and that “Chief Spicuzza did not raise any strategic or tactical objections to the 3:00 pm operation.”
The issue of violence is interesting, as well.
Kroll reports the following: “Chancellor Katehi’s understanding that ‘no violence’ would be employed in the removal of the tents was not clear in the mind of Vice Chancellor Meyer, however.”
Critically: “Meyer’s interpretation of the Berkeley guidance was that some use of force by police would be acceptable in taking down the tents.” Kroll adds: “When the Berkeley reference was mentioned, Meyer understood that to mean that the Leadership Team did not want the police to use batons.”
John Meyer said, “That was our symbol and direction … If we we’re going to do it, we have to do it in a manner that doesn’t create that outcome. We can’t go there.”
Kroll adds, “According to Meyer, he did not understand that Chancellor Katehi believed that no force at all would be employed in taking down the tents until her comments following the November 18 police action.”
According to Meyer, he understood that “there’s an escalation of uses of force” and that “if I’m trying to bring someone out of the tent or … break a line physically by grabbing your arm and moving you apart … I think I understand that that was still allowable.”
From this report we see three clear and critical contributions that John Meyer made, not only as a member of the leadership team but also as the direct supervisor to the police chief.
First, he made the determination that there were non-affiliates and used that as a rationale for clearing the tents – which was also his determination. Furthermore, he facilitated in the lack of communication with the police on the timing of the operation.
We reiterate this point from the Task Force report: “[Vice Chancellor Meyer] bears some significant responsibility for the decision to use the police and to risk a confrontation with protesters on Nov. 18. Vice Chancellor Meyer also exercised administrative responsibility over UCDPD.”
In fact, they single him out. They write, “In that capacity, he, more than other members of the Leadership Team, should have taken steps to determine if police leadership had concerns about the contemplated operation and to ensure that those concerns were understood and evaluated by the Leadership Team.”
Where does that leave John Meyer? That is a critical question that will be answered in the coming weeks.
—David M. Greenwald reporting