Commentary: Workers’ Compensation Award of Pike Much Criticized


When former UC Davis Police Lieutenant John Pike received a workers’ compensation award that was greater than the payout to his victims, the Vanguard wrote that the payout makes both a mockery of the system and the incident.

The Vanguard was not alone in its indignation.

In a scathing editorial, the Sacramento Bee called the payment “another black eye for workers’ comp system.”  They write, “Something is wrong when the police officer who pepper-sprayed UC Davis students collects more in workers’ compensation for a wounded ‘psyche’ than his victims did in the courts.”

“Yet, that’s the situation. Former Lt. John Pike will receive $33,350 [after attorneys’ fees], while the 21 students who sued over the November 2011 incident received $30,000 each,” they continue.

Mr. Pike says “that after a video of the incident went viral and his name became public, he became the target of about 27,000 texts and emails, some of them vicious.”

However, “What about the physical and mental anguish of the students who had a painful chemical sprayed in their faces? Didn’t Pike bring the scorn upon himself by completely overreacting to a peaceful protest? And wasn’t most of the stress after he was suspended?” the Bee asks.  “The university says it had no choice in the matter once the state Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board ruled.”

The Bee notes, “Under California law, psychiatric injury and job-related mental stress can be cause for compensation, including permanent disability benefits. The amount depends on the level of disability, which is determined by the medical diagnosis and what the injured worker and other witnesses say, according to the state Department of Industrial Relations, which runs workers’ compensation.”

The Bee also notes, “Workers’ compensation has a troubled history in California. The complicated, costly system came to symbolize what was wrong with state government. Injured workers received some of the nation’s lowest benefits and employers paid skyrocketing premiums, while lawyers, doctors and others worked the system to rake in the cash. Arnold Schwarzenegger tried to fix the problems as governor in 2004 with measures to rein in doctor shopping and other abuses.”

“The Legislature took another crack at reform last year with a bill designed to reduce costs for businesses while increasing benefits for permanently disabled workers by limiting lawsuits and making the system more efficient,” the Bee writes.  “Recent changes in the law tightened eligibility and raised the level of proof needed in psychological-stress cases. The payment to Pike, however, again sprays disrepute on California’s workers’ comp system.”

The Woodland Daily Democrat opines, “If we needed any further proof that students were badly burned in the November 2011 pepper-spraying by former UC Davis Police Lt. John Pike, it came with word that Pike was getting $38,350 in workers compensation.”

“What’s wrong with that you ask? Well, the 21 people he pepper-sprayed got $30,000 in restitution,” the paper continues.  “Something is seriously out of order with the state’s workers’ compensation system when a person guilty of hurting others can collect more (than) they can because his ‘psyche’ was damaged.”

The Daily Democrat goes on to note just how much the university has paid out:

  • $250,000 to the attorneys.
  • $320,000 to the Munger, Tolles & Olson law firm in San Francisco for work on a systemwide review of how UC campuses should respond to demonstrations. Another $88,686 in salaries and other fees to UC Berkeley officials who worked on that review.
  • $119,714 to Marsh Risk and Insurance Services of San Francisco to provide “real time crisis management support for UC Davis.”
  • $445,879 to the Kroll consulting firm for an independent probe that reported its findings to a panel headed by former state Supreme Court Justice Cruz Reynoso. Kroll’s billing included more than $10,707 in airfare, $3,181 in ground transportation and $8,800 in hotel charges.
  • $230,256 paid for an internal affairs investigation into the actions of Pike.

Those figures do not include the payout to the victims of over $1 million.

Over the nearly two years since the incident, we have had a number of people write or opine elsewhere about the limited impact of pepper spraying.  First, it would be interesting to note, at least, that the military grade of pepper spray may or may not matter.  But the physical impact of the pepper spray probably pales in comparison with the psychological impact.

Last week we noted a few accounts, and we add those here as well.

Accounts from several of the students pepper sprayed demonstrate they suffered physical and mental impacts at least as severe as those of John Pike.

“We were sitting down as a symbolic gesture of protest and it was an act of solidarity with my friends who were arrested,” David Buscho, one of those pepper sprayed, told the Vanguard last September when the settlement was agreed upon.

When students remained seated to continue their demonstration, a UC Davis police officer repeatedly sprayed the line of protesters with pepper spray at point-blank range, while scores of other officers looked on.

“I was pepper sprayed repeatedly in the face,” described Mr. Buscho, a Mechanical Engineering student.

Another officer sprayed the demonstrators from behind. The seated students posed no physical threat to the officers. Pepper spray has excruciating effects that can last for days.

“It’s really the most noxious and painful substance,” Mr. Buscho said as he described the agonizing moments following being bathed in pepper spray.

“My face was totally coated because I couldn’t cover my face,” he continued.  “I kept inhaling pepper spray which is really bad.  When you inhale pepper spray it’s so painful that your entire chest contracts so it actually feels like you’re suffocating because I couldn’t force myself to breathe.”

He described repeatedly vomiting.  Those who tried to help by pouring water on him made it worse because it simply spread the agent throughout his body.

“I was just covered in pepper spray,” he said.

“I want to make sure that nothing like this happens again. That’s the best thing that could come from this. Since November 18 students have been afraid of the police. The University still needs to work to rebuild students’ trust and this settlement is a step in the right direction,” said Fatima Sbeih, who had just graduated with an International Studies degree. Sbeih was one of those pepper sprayed on the Quad. She had panic attacks and frequent nightmares for months after the incident, and often woke up screaming.

“I want the University and the police to understand what they did wrong. Police should be accountable to students,” said Ian Lee. Lee was less than two months into college when he was pepper sprayed. “I was demonstrating because of rising tuition hikes and privatization of the University. Then we faced police brutality in response. I felt like the University silenced me.” After the incident, Lee experienced panic attacks and was afraid to participate in protests.

As the Press Democrat notes, “The image is as unforgettable as it is disturbing: A helmeted police officer spraying a stream of caustic pepper spray into the eyes of student demonstrators protesting tuition increases at UC Davis. It wasn’t surprising that the students sued and received settlements from the University of California. But this is surprising: A larger amount is being paid to John Pike, the former UC police lieutenant who sprayed the students.

“UC officials acknowledged last week that Pike will be paid $38,000 to settle a worker’s comp claim for damage to his ‘psyche’ from the incident and the outpouring of public disgust that followed. Each of the 21 students received $30,000. Something seems backwards here.”

—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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21 thoughts on “Commentary: Workers’ Compensation Award of Pike Much Criticized”

  1. SouthofDavis

    David wrote:

    > The Daily Democrat goes on to note just how much
    > the university has paid out (and he lists the over 1.3
    > MILLION paid out to bureaucrats and politically connected
    > firms getting piles of cash)

    > UC officials acknowledged last week that Pike will
    > be paid $38,000 to settle a worker’s comp claim for
    > damage to his “psyche” from the incident and the
    > outpouring of public disgust that followed. Each
    > of the 21 students received $30,000. Something seems
    > backwards here.”

    It is amazing how most of the media spins this with many on the right “outraged” at the protesters getting about ~$30K each and the left wing press and media is getting “their side” in a tizzy that Pike is getting $30K+. No one seems to ask why (even with a lot of smart people getting paid millions and millions each year to “manage” the university) we seem to always have an extra million or so to hire outside firms to come and fix most problems (so we don’t upset the bureaucrats or make them do anything unpleasant or hard)…

  2. JimmysDaughter

    I wonder why more citizens didn’t turn out in Woodland at the court house to support the students? Their civil rights were violated in such a huge way, I anticipated a much bigger turn out.

  3. David M. Greenwald

    SOD: Part of the problem here was that the people on the inside bore responsibility for the event itself as highlighted in the Kroll and Reynoso reports, so UCOP really had to have outside investigators. Also, you need trained investigators. I’m not completely sure if that addresses your point. I dislike the extra expenditures as well, but that’s why I think having a police oversight board like presented last week was so critical.

  4. Mr.Toad

    “Of course, we all must realize that the path to peace may be a little bit difficult, but not as difficult as the path to war.”

    Golda Meir

    Instead of focusing on the money, and compared to the other costs of this debacle its a small part of the total spent, maybe we should focus on forgiveness.

    Too bad there is still all this anger and bitterness. If ever there was a case that cried out for restorative justice this is one.

  5. David M. Greenwald

    In early 2012, Robb Davis, David Breaux and Kristin Stoneking, came to the HRC and presented us a proposal for a restorative justice process that they presented to the upper administration. Unfortunately the proposal never went anywhere because of the lawsuit and by the time the lawsuit was settled, no one was that inclined to re-open it. But yes, Mr. Toad, I completely agree.

  6. Phil Coleman

    Being quite familiar with internal and outside consulting costs in a circumstance like this–and taking into account that this case politically volatile–the fees paid are extraordinarily high. I’d love to know the hourly rate charged to warrant almost a quarter million dollars paid for an IA investigation.

    If the UC System contracted out just that cost to, say, a major municipal police department with a reputable internal investigation component, the charge would be about ten percent of that figure.

  7. Davis Progressive

    you guys are missing a critical point – money is what holds people accountable – money talks, it speaks, and it walks. if the university has to shell out millions for critical mistakes, it will ultimately learn from them.

  8. Davis Progressive

    btw, mr. toad – i have yet to hear mr. pike hint at the notion that he could have handled things differently. that is a critical component of a restorative justice process.

  9. SouthofDavis

    Davis Progressive wrote:

    > money is what holds people accountable –
    > money talks, it speaks,

    True, but as far as I know not a single person working for UC (including officer Pike) had to pay any of their OWN money to anyone. Clayton Garzon and his family had to pay some of their OWN money out so he may learn something.

    Just think if the taxpayers of Davis were forced to pay a million dollars to “sudy” why Clayton beat a gay guy and then we gave Clayton an extra $35K to help him deal with the “stress” the beating caused him.

    If I screw up and I know OTHER PEOPLE will pay money it will not have the same effect of making me pay my OWN money. Just like if I’m spending my OWN money for a hammer or a study I’ll take the time to make sure I don’t spend 10x as much as I need to. Today we have the GOP guy buying 500 $10 hammers for $100 each from a contributor and the Dem guy paying $500K for a $50K study from a contributor.

  10. Robb Davis

    Toad — I agree with you fully re: RJ could have/should have been used here. Kristin Stoneking, David Breaux and I met in the months after the pepper spraying with Justice Reynoso and he agreed with your assessment. Indeed, his task force placed a recommendation calling for RJ to be used in their report. The University held the power to make it happen but chose not too. I say that because there was a group of students ready to meet with the police and university leadership. The three of us wrote to the lawyers representing the students and asked them to consider placing a request for a “conference” among the stakeholders in the final agreement. We never heard back.

    There is still a tremendous amount of pain for many of those involved but the formal (legal) processes have kept everyone apart.

    DP – part of the RJ process involves victims (yes I am calling the students victims, I know some do not believe they were but I do) meeting with offenders to talk about the harms done to them. This is often the first time that offenders fully recognize and acknowledge the impact of their actions. Keep in mind that it is very likely that ALL the legal advice Mr Pike has received has been to tell him to admit no wrong, to acknowledge nothing and to basically keep his mouth shut. This is our punitive and combative justice system on full display. There are other ways to build accountability and money is not always part of it. Many times victims just want to be heard, to ask questions and to explain to the offender the harms their actions caused.

    We could have done better (and some of believe that we still could do better in this case and hope some day we will)

  11. B. Nice

    [quote]part of the RJ process involves victims (yes I am calling the students victims, I know some do not believe they were but I do) meeting with offenders to talk about the harms done to them.[/quote]

    In my mind the word victim implies a sort of powerlessness and passiveness. A victim would have let themselves be bullied by the cops into moving, these students didn’t. They stood up for what they believed in, even when they realized what the unjust (and in my opinion what should be illegal) consequences would be for doing so. I’m curious do they want to be considered victims? Do they consider themselves victims?

  12. medwoman


    Do you have any evidence that the protesters who were sprayed were the same people involved in the chants you are quoting ? If you do not, and are judging them by the actions of others, then should every police man present be treated the same as Lt. Pike ?

  13. B. Nice

    Upon reflection I realize I have a strong negative connotation attached to the word victim. Quotes like, “don’t let yourself be a victim” keep popping up on my head. In my head being a victim was a bad thing. Then I read quotes like, “poor little victims”, and I realize I’m not the only one who has negative associations attached to the word. So maybe that’s why I cringe when hear these students referred to as victims.

    In any event these students participated in the escalation of the situation, in my mind calling them victims somehow discounts their participation, and diminishes the importance of their cause, which they felt was important enough to get pepper sprayed for.

  14. Growth Izzue

    Funny though Medwoman how the crowd was chanting set them free then you can go to the police and then shortly after that the protesters who were eventually sprayed made a line purposely across the officer’s path out. Pretty provocative of the poor little victims wouldn’t you say Medwoman?

  15. wesley506

    Pike was given a direct order by his superiors to clear the sidewalk. I think his choice to use pepper spray from that close of a distance in a politically charged university setting was very very stupid. He probably used it before and knew from training that the effects of pepper spray go away in generally about 45-60 minutes and so decided that is was better than having to wrestle and cuff up each and every student on the sidewalk. Had he refused to follow the direct order he would have at least received some pretty serious disciplinary action, and perhaps a demotion. As a result of his following a direct order he gets put on administrative leave, investigated, and receives 27,000 threats, which apparently include very serious threats to himself and his family. He is anxious and stressed out about the threats that he received for following a direct order. Yes, I think he deserves workman’s comp, and am surprised he was not awarded more.

  16. medwoman


    [quote]Pretty provocative of the poor little victims wouldn’t you say Medwoman?[/quote]

    Civil disobedience is by its nature, provocative. The question is, provocative of what ? I see it as being provocative of a re examination of the acts that “provoked” the protest in the first place, in this case, rising student fees and privatization of a public institution. It is not an invitation for the use of violence.
    There is in this country, a long history of civil disobedience from the original Tea Party, through the civil rights movement, through the Viet Nam war protests. What is ironic to me is that many seem to judge the act of civil disobedience as justifiable based only on whether or not they are in agreement with the specific cause of the protesters.

    While watching a John Stewart segment last night ( for entertainment value, not for the news) there was a present day Tea Party speaker calling the President a Muslim and calling for his resignation. He was also calling for Tea Party members to engage in acts of civil disobedience ( peaceful, but lawbreaking none the less).

    Please note that I have not called for any harsh punishment for any of those I hold responsible for what I see as an unnecessary physical attack on citizens exercising their right to protest peacefully, during daytime, open hours on public land. That would include responsible members of the administration as well as the police.
    I have joined with Robb and others in calling for a restorative justice as opposed to a punitive approach.

  17. Ginger

    I agree 100% with every last thing B. Nice said.

    (Sorry, B. Nice! Heh.)

    And @ wesley506…yeah, that’s how I see that as well. People vilify Pike as if he was some renegade acting independently…the meme made him the face the entire incident.

    Robb Davis: [quote]The University held the power to make it happen but chose not too. I say that because there was a group of students ready to meet with the police and university leadership. The three of us wrote to the lawyers representing the students and asked them to consider placing a request for a “conference” among the stakeholders in the final agreement. We never heard back. [/quote]Can you explain this a bit more for me? I’m confused…sounds like the lawyers for the students didn’t respond?

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