The Vanguard met with UC Davis Police Chief Matt Carmichael on Monday, and, while the Chief could not answer specific questions about the August 26 arrest of former UC Davis student Fayia Sellu, he did provide details that serve as critical context to the incident.
In the early morning hours of August 26, police responded to a call about a suspicious individual who alleged entered the 24-hour reading room of Shields Library without the use of a key card. Mr. Sellu was asked to step outside the library.
Accounts vary at that point, with the police claiming in their report that Mr. Sellu refused to talk, while Mr. Sellu maintains he cooperated – only to be forcibly arrested upon existing the room. Mr. Sellu has filed a complaint alleging, among other things, excessive force.
Chief Carmichael made it clear: “I can’t speak to the specifics (of the incident) and I haven’t seen the investigation yet.”
However, he described the UC Davis Police Accountability Board as “unique,” not only among college campuses but in the state, comparing it to the civilian review board of San Francisco and Berkeley.
The investigation is performed by a university investigator through the Office of Compliance. Chief Carmichael explained, “What’s unique to this process is the police department openly and freely shares all information with the office of compliance.”
“They have access,” he said. “That’s pretty rare. What’s unique about that is that provides the outside investigator the opportunity to provide a thorough, factual and truthful investigation.”
When the investigation is complete, it goes to a Police Accountability Board – seven individuals. While the Chief wasn’t sure the exact number, “We have seen a rise in our complaints.” He believes that this is due to the fact that they now have “an open process that actively engages.”
Not only “have we seen a rise in the complaints,” he said, “but we can see that trend for a little while, but I think after two years, maybe three years of having seen that trend level out, you should be coming back here and saying” that, while it is good to get people to report their complaints, the number of complaints need to be declining.
One question that arose during the alleged incident involving Fayia Sellu is how frequent it is for the police to be called for illegal access to the 24-hour reading room.
“I don’t think it’s often,” Chief Carmichael responded. “I don’t think it’s often enough.” “It isn’t frequent,” he said, saying that people are arrested for what they call “tailgating.” This often happens in their housing as well, where a student “cards in” and someone uses that to gain access.
He said that they have increased their student patrols because, as he explained, “I have students there at 3 in the morning and it’s secure for a reason.” He said, “Those students believe that when they’re studying there, that they’re surrounded by like students.”
The Chief did not dismiss the notion that I could tailgate and gain access to the 24-hour reading room and no one would call the police. He said, “I don’t doubt it… This concept of tailgating has haunted security for the last 100 years.”
He added, “I understand where you’re coming from. What I would like to believe is this: we’re an extremely diverse and universal community. We have the brightest minds on the planet here, it’s an amazing place. I would hope that, as a community – and as a police chief, I don’t hope it, I direct, and I direct our police that we treat people fairly and equally and our community acts the same way.”
He added, “Tailgating from a security perspective is a common challenge.”
Right now Chief Carmichael stated that we don’t know who called the police. The investigation should allow us to know, but right now it is not something that is known.
He added, “For me, I believe in our process. I’m waiting for it.”
But Chief Carmichael noted that the 24-hour study room is not staffed by library personnel, “That’s why the card access is in place.”
For the police to come to the 24-hour reading room, the Chief explained, “for the officers now, it’s mostly based on a call, however they do what we call a walk-through.” However, the primary security is “completed by our student security officers” or Aggie Hosts.
The Vanguard asked the Chief if they get frequent complaints about thefts, harassments, and assaults in the 24-hour study room. He responded, “There are not frequent complaints about it. Again that’s the reason for card access.”
Mr. Sellu told the Vanguard that, as a former student, he has often utilized the 24-hour reading room on the side of Shields Library to do late night reading and studying. He told the Vanguard he had seen the two officers enter the reading area, but thought nothing about it as he was soon absorbed in his reading – when he discovered the two officers were standing directly over him.
The officers said he refused to leave, but Mr. Sellu told the Vanguard that, when the officers approached they asked for identification and that when he reached into his pocket to get that identification, they asked him to go outside rather than attempt to resolve the situation inside.
He told the Vanguard that he willingly went outside in order to clear up the matter. However, at this point, the demeanor of the officers changed. There was no mention in either report about the manner or speed of the arrest.
Chief Carmichael could not address at this time whether Mr. Sellu was forcibly removed from the reading room or the scene in general. He repeated, “I’m waiting for the investigation.”
He said that these reviews are averaging between 30 to 60 days – we are already more than a month after the incident occurred in late August. The Peace Officer Bill of Rights allows police organizations up to twelve months, but the Office of Compliance is in the 30 to 60 day range. The Police Accountability Board meets monthly and can meet more frequently if needed.
Chief Carmichael explained that most complaints the department receives and, in fact, that most departments receive, regards “code of conduct.” The officer was not police, the officer used profanity, the officer didn’t explain the situation well enough at the time, for instance.
He said that, while they are not a majority, he does get complaints that the stop or arrest “is based on a person’s ethnicity or race.” He said that beyond the complaint process he has open communication with the community. “I know that we still struggle as a police department where students of color have presented to me that they still feel racially profiled by the UC Davis police department.”
After four years, he said, “I’m still working to address the topic of ensuring that all of our students see us as a resource.” He said, trust “doesn’t exist today, that doesn’t exist for some members of our community.”
In short, he said that there is not an overwhelming amount of formal complaints based on disparate treatment by race. But the complaint does exist and he is hoping that, by working with the students, they can reduce its frequency.
In the meantime, he is awaiting the results of the formal investigation so we can learn what happened and what went wrong with the arrest of Fayia Sellu.
—David M. Greenwald reporting