Vanguard Finds UCD Internal Investigation Decisions Coming Back to Bite Them
While the open letter from the Executive Board of UC Davis Police Officers Association (UCDPOA) is mainly self-serving and indefensible, they do have one reasonable point that we have raised a number of times – the fact that, while the administration was hammered in the Kroll and Reynoso reports almost as hard as the police officers, it is only Chief Annette Spicuzza, Lt. John Pike and Officer Alexander Lee who have lost their jobs over the actions that occurred on November 18 at the UC Davis Quad.
Writes the UCDPOA, “We, the Board, agree with the Reynoso report; the KROLL Report and the Edley Robinson Report, as it relates to findings concerning Chancellor Katehi and her leadership team’s decisions surrounding the events of November 18th, 2011. There were indeed, “substantive mistakes at the administrative level.” The decisions made by Katehi’s leadership team during the days leading up to and on November 18th have caused long-term damage to the University of California and the UC Davis Police Department.”
And they correctly note, “To this day, not one University Administrator has been demoted or terminated due to their decisions, which placed our police officers and the students of this university into an unnecessary and foreseeable confrontation.”
The Vanguard notes that, while the police were convenient targets for dismissal, the report made it clear that the November 18, 2011 incident was the result of systemic failure.
As Kroll noted, “It was the systemic and repeated failures in the civilian, UC Davis Administration decision-making process that put the officers in the unfortunate situation in which they found themselves shortly after 3 p.m.”
Indeed, it was Katehi who chose the time of day to clear the Quad, against the advice of the police, and it was Katehi and her subordinates such as John Meyer who worried about non-affiliates.
As the task force wrote, “No one can know for certain what would have happened if the police operation had been conducted in the early morning on Saturday, or a day or two later on Sunday or Monday night. What is clear is that the timing of a police operation is a tactical decision that should be determined by police officers rather than civilian administrators.”
Nevertheless, we ultimately find the letter from UCDPOA self-serving. They are not arguing that the administration should be punished too, they are arguing that neither should be punished.
The findings of the Kroll report, comprised of former LAPD Police Chief William Bratton and numerous retired police officers, were damning to the point that we simply cannot ignore them.
Despite suggestions to the contrary, Lt. Pike was ultimately fired for cause. UC Davis’ spokesperson Barry Shiller confirmed that there was no severance agreement.
Kroll and Reynoso laid out in painstaking detail total failure, from insubordination by Lt. Pike and Lt. Swartwood, to Lt. Pike’s improperly ceasing the scene command, to his decision to use pepper spray on the seated protesters rather than the surrounding crowd, to the slow and methodical use of a variant of the pepper spray he was not trained to use and did not administer properly.
There is a great deal of irony here as well, however. We are having this discussion because UC Davis, for whatever reason, chose to hire a firm, the Van Dermyden firm, that they have used repeated over the years and which has exonerated the university of wrongdoing in all but one case. We know they have paid out at least $300,000 to this firm since 2008, and probably a good deal more.
We know that Vice Chancellor John Meyer, in consultation with others, chose to hire this firm. What we do not know and probably never will know is why they chose to do so.
In the end, because the firm largely exonerated Lt. Pike, only to be overruled somewhat by a second panel, and completely overruled by Chief Carmichael after the public release of the Kroll report, Lt. Pike now has a legitimate beef. The university is now likely to face a wrongful termination suit and Lt. Pike might have a chance of prevailing, but it will be difficult.
The university ought to think long and hard, not only about its administrative functions, but also about how it handles internal investigations. Perhaps UC Davis thought that Kroll would vindicate the use of pepper spray on November 18. Perhaps they were thinking they could use the internal report as a way to fend off potential lawsuits from the protesters, but it becomes clear now that this is a liability because Chief Carmichael now has to at least privately defend his decision to overrule recommendations from the IA.
In the end, the Vanguard believes that Chief Carmichael did the right thing here. Despite the findings of the internal investigation, we agree with the conclusions of Kroll and Reynoso: “The pepper spraying incident that took place on November 18, 2011 should and could have been prevented.”
Kroll wrote: “The actual deployment of pepper spray by Lieutenant Pike and by [Officer Alexander Lee] at Pike’s direction was flawed and unnecessary.”
The task force found, along with Kroll, “The decision to use [pepper spray] was not supported by objective evidence and was not authorized by policy,” as the pepper spray that was used was not an authorized weapon for use by the UCDPD.
The task force found, “Lt. Pike bears primary responsibility for the objectively unreasonable decision to use pepper spray on the students sitting in a line and for the manner in which the pepper spray was used.”
It would be interesting to get a full reading of the panel’s report that was comprised of a UC Davis police captain and the campus chief compliance officer who, while recommending “an exonerated finding as to the charge alleging that Lt. Pike’s use of force may have been excessive under the circumstances,” were nonetheless critical of Lt. Pike who they believed “had ‘multiple opportunities’ to minimize the escalation of tensions and that ‘serious errors of judgment and deficiencies of leadership’ required that he face discipline ranging from a demotion to a suspension of at least two weeks.”
The Bee reports that, on April 27, Chief Carmichael informed Lt. Pike of his intention to fire him.
Writes the Bee: “Carmichael concluded that Pike had assumed the role of de facto commander of the operation ‘but performed it poorly’ and that the ‘manner in which you used the pepper spray showed poor judgment’ given the direction that minimal force was to be used.”
“The Operation caused damage to the campus and the Department,” the Bee reported that Chief Carmichael wrote. “It is my judgment that you bear significant responsibility for that outcome.”
One of the key factors is Lt. Pike’s insistence that he would have performed the same actions if faced again with the same circumstances.
Chief Carmichael wrote: “Knowing this information, you stated when interviewed that there is nothing you would do differently. Faced with the same circumstances, you would still have deployed the pepper spray.”
As we mentioned at the outset, we do agree with the UCDPOA on one point. The police involved in this incident have lost their jobs, and the administration who clearly made the policy that led to the incident are still employed. The Vanguard must question the fairness of this outcome – if indeed this is the final arrangement.
—David M. Greenwald reporting