Police Union Letter Complains About the Firing of Pike, Lack of Reciprocal Punishment For Katehi, Leadership Team


In late July, we finally learned the fates of Lt. John Pike and Officer Alexander Lee, as the university acknowledged that they were no longer on payroll.  A week later, we learned that in fact, as suspected, Chief Matt Carmichael fired Lt. Pike.

In was only due to a report in the Sacramento Bee, after the paper was leaked documents surrounding the campus’ internal investigation, that the public learned for the first time that the internal investigation, conducted for the university by two outside firms, had actually largely cleared Lt. Pike, and that a separate panel was concerned about the handling of the incident and recommended the demotion and suspension of the infamous John Pike.

It was Chief Matt Carmichael, understanding the enormity of the implications of that decision, who made the decision to fire Lt. Pike.

Now the Executive Board of the University of California Davis Police Officers Association has released an open letter to the UC Board of Regents protesting the decision to fire Lt. Pike for his actions on November 18, 2011.

They write, “While the Board fully supports the appointment of Police Chief Carmichael and the positive changes he is implementing, we do not approve of the decision to disregard the findings of the internal affairs investigation and the sufficiency review board as it relates to Lieutenant Pike’s termination.”

UC Davis Spokesperson Barry Shiller told the Davis Vanguard on Tuesday that the university was aware of the letter but declining comment.  Emails to the UC Office of the President were not responded to.

The open letter from the police officer’s union notes that the Sacramento Bee‘s reporting of the IA revealed that “the investigation found that Lieutenant Pike was justified with his use of pepper spray under the circumstances.  The internal affairs investigation did not recommend discipline for Lieutenant Pike due to the use of force issue, rather other aspects of the events that day.”

They add, “Additionally, the discipline recommendations did not include termination, but rather demotion or suspension.  He should not have been terminated from The UC Davis Police Department.”

One of the clear concerns of the police officer’s union is the concern that, while Lt. Pike, Chief Spicuzza and Officer Lee have all had their employment with the university terminated one way or another, no one from the administrative side of the aisle has.

They write that they agree with the findings concerning Chancellor Linda Katehi, her leadership team, and their role and decisions surrounding the incident on November 18, 2011.

“There were indeed, ‘substantive mistakes at the administrative level,’ ” they write.  “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.”

They 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 union adds, “What is troubling and ironic is that Lieutenant Pike had tried harder than anyone to prevent this confrontation from occurring, as evidenced from the investigations.”

The union’s letter references a January 19, 2012 confrontation between President Mark Yudof and protesters at the Board of Regents meeting at UC Riverside.

“The Executive Board also finds it ironic that President Yudof had publicly condemned the actions of the UC Davis Police Officers until he himself was surrounded by protestors at a Regents Meeting on January 19th, 2012 at UC Riverside,” the union writes.

They quote President Yudoff in a letter to Professor Charles Thorpe of UC San Diego: “The old adage, there are two sides to every story, holds true, and the videos you saw may not have told the entire story.  In my view, it was far less than the peaceful protest you have characterized and the actions of some of the demonstrators provoked the response from the police”.

The union argues: “President Yudof was now speaking from the perspective of a man who had been at an event surrounded by a large angry mob, and experienced firsthand the potential perils therein. Trapped by heated protestors, the Regents and their staff were in fear for their safety and required police escort to be freed. Yet, Yudof and other University Administrators still stand in judgment of Lieutenant Pike who was faced with a similar situation, trying to protect and remove his officers (and arrestees) from the quad at UC Davis on November 18th, 2011.”

The letter concludes: “This Board looks forward to intelligent, productive change as we all learn from what occurred on November 18th 2011 and the events in its wake.  Addressing the injustices associated with the events that day would be an excellent start towards not letting this portion of history repeat itself.”

On August 2, the Sacramento Bee reported, “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, dated 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.”

“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.”

—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. eagle eye

    If any one of us civilians behaved as Pike did, we’d be facing a multitude of criminal charges, our life savings would be used up paying for defense attorneys, investigators, and expert witnesses, and we’d probably be found guilty and spend many years in prison for assaulting all those many people.
    But law enforcement is so used to getting away with murder, here they are complaining that Pike was fired for doing things he ought not to have done. No matter what he thought admin wanted, it doesn’t excuse his poor judgement, or perhaps, his desire to attack young and up and coming college students.

  2. biddlin

    “But law enforcement is so used to getting away with murder, here they are complaining that Pike was fired for doing things he ought not to have done.”
    That’s why many other public employees call them “First Desponders”

  3. Phil Coleman

    Pike has been repeatedly described as being “vindicated” for his pepper spray action, based on the totality of the circumstances involved. The above column says a slightly more moderate, “largely cleared” of accountability and responsibility.

    Nobody can be vindicated of anything, followed by punishment of suspension or demotion. That’s not vindication. Rather it supports the logic that there were MITIGATING circumstances that favored Pike and reduced his accountability.

    Pike took over leadership of a chaotic scene when it had been assigned to somebody else. Nobody faulted that action per se, which strongly implies the other assigned scene leader utterly failed in a crisis circumstance.

    Pike was never assigned blame for the training failure on pepper spray or the obtaining of the unauthorized spray by the Department. Who do we hang for that? A particularly good question for the police union that wants more hangings at the upper level.

    Pike was faulted for not having post-event contrition. He said he would have done the same thing given the same circumstances and available information. The Chief particularly found fault with that response which, again, implies Pike’s failure to realize the magnitude of his actions.

    I’m extremely skeptical of how Pike is being portrayed here. Who has suffered more than Pike? Deserved or not, he has suffered more than all others combined. His life is destroyed. I think Pike responded to a loaded question of “Would you have done anything different” and he responded from a perspective of “then,” while later being judged from a perspective of “after.”

    Pike deserves at least some credit anticipating what was going to happen, futility pleading for a more temperate response, and then taking over by default when his predictions came true and his peers and superiors abdicated their responsibilities. There is a heck of a story there, and I frankly can’t wait until Pike is deposed in the civil suit, should it ever get that far.

    Can anybody unequivocally say that Pike was “fired,” or “terminated for cause?” The press has said it, the Skelly letter was a declaration of intent. But I still wonder if his separation was negotiated with strings attached.

  4. Siegel

    I disagree with a lot of what Phil Coleman says here.

    If you don’t like word vindicate, how about minimize. I question why you would take the word of the internal report over Kroll, a company comprised of a former Police Chief and other retired officers.

    Who suffered more than Pike? How about who is more culpable than pike here. For all of the problems of the administration, had Pike simply waited out the protest, most of those problems would have been minor.

    Meanwhile Pike is going to retire (as he would have shortly anyway), he can move from the area and receive his 3% at 50 pension for the rest of his life. Poor him.

  5. Ryan Kelly

    Pike’s training and experience has taught him to give higher importance to protecting “his troops” over protecting the students and faculty from harm. It makes sense, if viewed that way, that he would repeat his actions under similar conditions. Regardless of what the internal investigation concluded, it is not what we hired him to do. He doesn’t belong on a university campus.

  6. E Roberts Musser

    [quote]Pike deserves at least some credit anticipating what was going to happen, futility pleading for a more temperate response, and then taking over by default when his predictions came true and his peers and superiors abdicated their responsibilities. There is a heck of a story there, and I frankly can’t wait until Pike is deposed in the civil suit, should it ever get that far. [/quote]

    Interesting perspective…

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