University sources, citing privacy and personnel issues, are declining to comment on a report in the Sacramento Bee this morning that the UC Davis Police Chief overruled two internal investigations in order to fire Lt. John Pike. The report is based on a leaked confidential 76-page internal affairs investigation report and emails.
Reported the Bee this morning, “Pike was fired Tuesday after UC Davis Police Chief Matthew Carmichael rejected the findings and wrote in a letter to Pike that ‘the needs of the department do not justify your continued employment,’ according to the documents.”
The report was conducted by a Sacramento law firm that the university has not been able to disclose thus far, and a private investigator hired by UC Davis. The report, date March 1, was reportedly “completed after interviews with at least 27 police officers, including Pike, as well as university leadership going all the way up to Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi.”
“For reasons detailed in this report, we conclude that Lieutenant Pike’s use of pepper spray was reasonable under the circumstances,” the report states. “The visual of Lieutenant Pike spraying the seated protesters is indeed disturbing.
“However, it also fails to tell other important parts of the story.”
Cruz Reynoso, whose task force reviewed the report written by former LA Police Chief William Bratton and his firm, Kroll, strongly disputed the validity of the findings.
“Based on the newspaper accounts… it appears that the review was superficial and reached an incorrect conclusion that Lt. Pike had acted correctly under the circumstances,” Cruz Reynoso said.
He added, “As the Task Force concluded, the Pepper Spray never should have been utilized under those circumstances. There was absolutely no danger to the officers and they could have executed their duties in a completely legal proper way without using pepper spray.”
Another source who spoke with the Vanguard under the condition that they not be identified said that the law firm hired by the university lacked the expertise of the Kroll Team to conduct an investigation into a complex matter such as the pepper-spray incident.
The Bee reports, “The report found that Pike had repeatedly warned students who had gathered on the Quad to protest rising tuition costs that they would be pepper-sprayed if they did not disperse, and that ‘the police officers were fully encircled by protesters who had locked arms and would not let the officers exit.’ “
However, the Vanguard‘s source argues that this is a lay opinion, that warning the students was sufficient to compel the use of force.
The source added that the internal review which spoke with 27 police officers appeared to accept their word without scrutiny.
In addition, the source indicated that internal affairs investigations are notoriously biased in favor of the police officers. The source explained that part of that rationale was the monetary incentive to avoid publicly ruling against the agency that faces liability and public scrutiny for the actions of the officers in their employment.
The report largely exonerates Lt. Pike, but there are notes of criticism.
For example, the Bee reports that Lt. Pike “had ‘temporarily rendered himself ineffective’ in his role as the incident commander – a duty he assumed when he decided he needed to take charge – when he began taking down tents, physically separating students from each other and, ultimately, deploying his canister of pepper spray.”
Lt. Pike’s calm demeanor has drawn criticism, as well.
“Video images of Pike calmly shaking his canister of pepper spray and unleashing it on students have been viewed millions of times on the Internet,” the Bee writes. “Investigators asked him to explain what they said was the public view of his ‘nonchalant demeanor.’ “
“I take my job very seriously,” he told them. “Any, any – any application of force – umm – for me it’s not a – it’s not a thrill ride – it’s not – ‘woo hoo, this is gonna be fun, I get to hurt somebody.’ That’s not it.”
The Bee reports that Lt. Pike “viewed it as applying ‘a tool on them to gain compliance, so that I can get my troops out of there, my suspects out of there, and get a job done.’ “
Reports the Bee: “The internal affairs investigators, who reviewed more than 6,000 pages of emails, videos of the disturbance and other material, concluded there was a ‘preponderance of evidence’ to support Pike’s action.”
“Lieutenant Pike’s deployment of pepper spray was reasonable under the circumstances,” the report states.
Next, however, a panel comprised of a UC Davis police captain and the campus chief compliance officer reviewed the report and issued its own recommendations.
They recommended, according to the Bee, “an exonerated finding as to the charge alleging that Lt. Pike’s use of force may have been excessive under the circumstances.”
On the other hand, the board was critical of his actions that “were not reasonable and prudent under the circumstances in view of his rank and responsibilities at the time.”
Notably, they find that Lt. Pike “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.”
The ACLU’s Michael Risher, citing ongoing litigation with the university and an upcoming mediation session, declined to go into specifics about the current findings.
However, he did note that in California there are many cases where internal affairs will clear an officer of any wrongdoing, “and then a more independent investigation” will make “it perfectly clear than an officer’s conduct was inappropriate, often unconstitutional and the officer should have been disciplined.”
“That’s a huge problem because it decreases the deterrent effect of the disciplinary system,” he added. “It [also] decreases public confidence in our police force.”
Most of the time, he noted, these proceedings are secrets, though occasionally it will come out that an officer has or has not been disciplined.
“Unless there’s a leak, we hear absolutely nothing about the process that led up the decision maker’s decision,” Mr. Risher told the Vanguard.
He added, “There’s often a reluctance to impose discipline where discipline is really warranted.”
One of the key questions is whether the act of the chief overruling the internal affairs recommendation was unusual in this case.
Michael Risher argued that this was a difficult question, given the lack of reliable data and the secret nature of such investigations.
Mr. Richer concluded, “The idea that police departments adequately police themselves has been shown again and again to be a complete fallacy. History has shown us that police departments do a horrible job of disciplining their own officers for their conduct.”
Cruz Reynoso stands by the report that his task force, made up of faculty, administrators, students, and community members, unanimously agreed to back in April.
“The conclusion [of the internal affairs report] is 100% wrong,” Cruz Reynoso said. “And I think the decision of the police chief to fire him was correct.”
—David M. Greenwald reporting