Commentary: The Devil is in the Details

Is Dunning the Only One Allowed to Rush to Judgment?

On Monday, April 24, the Davis Police Department released a statement on an alleged assault on police officers on Picnic Day that on its face did not make a lot of sense.  Two days later, other accounts emerged that contradicted the police statement and were reported in the Bee and Enterprise.

The Vanguard on April 28 published an interview with attorney Mark Reichel, who is representing Elijah Williams, one of the suspects arrested on April 22.  At that time, we acquired a nine-second video shot by a cell phone of the incident.

That video begins with a woman screaming, “Oh my god Angelica, what the f-, get the f- off of her.”  As we noted at the time, we do not see what precipitated it, but from Mark Reichel’s account, at the point at which the officers exited the vehicle, they had not identified themselves, “Angelica” confronted them with profanities and flipped them off.

At this point, Mr. Reichel explained, the cop puts her in a headlock and “starts punching her.”  He said, “That’s the first thing that happens.”

We did not have full benefit of the video so, like Mark Reichel, we did our best to piece together what happened from witness accounts and the video that we did see.

The Vanguard followed up and requested a public release of the video – which has now been granted in two versions – a regular speed version and a slow motion version.

There is no audio in this, so it makes what happens a bit ambiguous.  But the police van, which is unmarked, does a u-turn and does pull up right next to the crowd, coming close to hitting some people.  Clearly, from this video, the account that they pulled up on the wrong side of the road is inaccurate (though that was never that important to the story).

We have accounts that police were shouting profanity, “get the f- back,” and some of our sources suggest that might be accurate, but we cannot hear this on the video.

What I do see is it appears that Angelica is one of the people who nearly gets hit by the van, you can see that Antoine Perry, her boyfriend, pulls her out of the way.  She becomes angry and confronts the van.  The passenger comes out and some sort of conflict ensues.

That is the key part of what we don’t know – what precipitated the confrontation.  Did the police pull up, aggressively and in plainclothes so that people were not sure who they were dealing with, or were they immediately assaulted by a large and uncontrollable crowd?

From our standpoint that is why we need a fair and impartial investigation.  It may well be true that both sides here acted inappropriately.  I still believe that the initial statement by police was inaccurate and hyperbolic and it appears that better handling of this incident should have avoided what transpired.

As Rich Rifkin put it in a comment yesterday, and Mr. Rifkin and I have long disagreed on these matters, “I have now watched the dashcam footage five times and I don’t see ‘clear video evidence’ corroborating the officers’ version of events or any ‘suspect’ lifting his shirt to motion that he had a gun.”

I also did not see any clear evidence of a suspect lifting up his shirt to motion that he had a gun, although others have seen some sort of movement.

It remains less than clear as to whether and when the police properly identified themselves.  One of the biggest questions going forward here is whether a plainclothed unit should be making this kind of stop during Picnic Day.

In our analysis, we concluded, “In our view, the police account is inconsistent with what we see on the video and, while we do not get all of the pieces to the puzzle, the narrative given by the defendants seems more consistent with what occurs on the video.”

In his column written yesterday, Bob Dunning writes, “When two Davis police officers were knocked to the ground, then kicked and beaten by a Picnic Day crowd, the usual cop-hating folks came out of the woodwork to claim that the fault for the whole thing rested with the police, not the assailants who did the kicking and punching.”

Our view was that the police account on the surface did not make a lot of sense and that the video contradicted key portions of their claims.  I remain convinced of that, but the situation does appear more gray than that.

Mr. Dunning writes, “Among those blaming the police was a cop-bashing blog that is willing to publish all things negative about the police by reporting on only a small slice of video taken long after the confrontation began. The video, which magically ends after just nine brief seconds, was provided by an attorney for one of those criminally charged.”

We can only report what we have.  It should be noted that the Vanguard first published the initial account of the police when it was released.  We got an interview with Mark Reichel and ran it.  We asked the police to respond to his claims, they declined.  We asked for a full version of the video.

When the Davis Enterprise had a chance to interview Mark Reichel and Isabel Lynch, they ran those stories too.  I don’t see Mr. Dunning criticizing Lauren Keene for running those accounts.

We can only publish the information we have available.

Mr. Dunning notes the video that just became released, and writes, “This telling video shows an angry young woman punching an officer in the back of the head, to which the officer appropriately responds by putting her in a restraining headlock for a brief second before she is eventually freed.”

This is true.  He omits what transpired to lead up to that point, but on the video we saw, we could not see the woman punching, and we acknowledged at the time that one of the important questions was why the officer put her in a headlock.

“But, all that the anti-police blog shows is a still shot of the woman in a headlock,” he writes.

That is all we could see clearly on the cell video – remember how that video starts with a woman screaming, “oh my god, Angelica.”  We don’t see what led up to that and we reported that.

Mr. Dunning then makes issue of the fact that we noted in the caption, “Officer holds Angelica in a headlock and punches her.”  He argues that “the just-released citizen-provided video – does not show a punch of any kind.”

It was a bit ambiguous on the video we saw whether he punched her while she was in the headlock, but during the scuffle it appears he may have punched her and she reports being punched.

Mr. Dunning then makes light of one thing that we clearly got wrong, Mr. Reichel’s description that the unmarked van pulled up on the wrong side of the road.

“Another flat-out falsehood,” he says.  He then makes fun of Mr. Reichel, suggesting he’s from the UK, and spends three paragraphs on this piece of information that is not really all that important.  What is important was that the officers made a u-turn into a crowd of people who were, by view of about one minute of video, in the street but otherwise peaceful, and officers took an aggressive approach for no good reason.

Mr. Dunning focuses on the superficial detail rather than the bigger picture here.

Mr. Dunning continues, “I’d call all this one-sided altering of facts a ‘rush to judgment’ but for the fact the judgment was made before any facts were even available. That’s just the way it is when you conclude ahead of time that cops are always wrong.”

Hold on a second.  It was just a week ago that Mr. Dunning, with a similar lack of facts, was attacking the interview of Isabel Lynch.  Is it only rushing to judgment if one is skeptical of the reports, but not if one completely buys into them?

Mr. Dunning was called out in a letter to the editor, “For Dunning to selectively pick and choose what to print in order to paint his version of what happened does a disservice to Lynch and other witnesses thinking about coming forward with additional information.”

In her defense of Dunning, Editor Debbie Davis inserted a response, “Yes, Ms. Jones, commentary is biased. Commentary is the writer’s opinion. Bob Dunning’s job is to share his well-informed opinion on local issues, as he did in this case.”

Writes Mr. Dunning on Wednesday, “Put simply, you shouldn’t draw conclusions based on your personal bias against the police before viewing how the confrontation started and how it developed.”

But was his commentary in favor of the police perfectly in bounds?  Is he completely unaware of the contradiction here?  Apparently only Mr. Dunning is allowed to rush to judgment, but everyone else must wait until Mr. Dunning says it is time for us to weigh in.

Later Mr. Dunning states, “[B]ut the cop-bashing blog again quotes attorney Reichel, who repeats the charge about the woman in the headlock when he claims the cop ‘starts punching her’ and adds ‘[t]hat’s the first thing that happens.’”

He argues that this is “nonsense” and “not even remotely true.”  He writes, “In fact, so far from the truth as to be laughable, but stated by the blog author as a fact nonetheless.”

Mr. Dunning seems to ignore the fact that his own paper quotes Mark Reichel as well.  Mr. Reichel told the paper that the officers “really didn’t have any reason to do what they were doing.”

“The van hit the horn and (the occupants) started spitting profanities at them,” said Mr. Reichel, “whose client insists no one inside the vehicle identified themselves as a police officer or had a visible badge.”

Elijah Williams, meanwhile, “is standing there watching a fight when all of a sudden he’s blindsided (by one of the officers), and I think because he’s black,” said Mr. Reichel, who also has obtained bystander video of the melee. “They never said ‘cops’ until the fight was long into it.”

So it is allowable for his paper to interview Mark Reichel and quote him, but not the Vanguard.  Got it.

“With something this inflammatory, commentators have an obligation to wait until they have the full story before they make patently and provably false statements claiming police misconduct,” Mr. Dunning writes.  “The cop-haters should be ashamed of themselves.  But trust me, they won’t be.”

But again Mr. Dunning is saying that only people who reflectively side with the police on all occasions are entitled to rush to judgment before the full story comes out.  Everyone else has to wait.

I don’t find that a particularly defensible position, nor does my view of the incident suggest nearly as black and white an interpretation as Mr. Dunning suggests.  I also figure if your position is strong enough, you don’t need to call names like “cop-haters” and “anti-police blog,” but that’s just me.

The key part of this whole confrontation is that we still don’t know how it really started.  Mr. Dunning argues, “In the disturbing citizen-provided Picnic Day video that shows the start of the confrontation, there is no doubt that the police acted appropriately.”  He adds that ” a large group of people was blocking a significant portion of one of the two westbound lanes on Russell Boulevard, creating a hazardous situation…  This has nothing to do with whether or not the police had a right to break up this crowd. ”

But Mr. Dunning, while probably overstating the hazard and the nature of the crowd (which is mostly dancing and having fun) and only slightly in the street, the bigger issue is the approach of the police and whether plainclothes officers should have been the ones to do traffic duty rather than calling for uniform units that might have used more subtlety and created less ambiguity.

Mr. Dunning argues that “there is no doubt that the police acted appropriately,” but we have no idea what they said based on the video that might have incited the crowd, nor do we know to what extent people knew they were dealing with the police.

These are questions that need to be addressed before we can jump to the conclusion that Mr. Dunning does.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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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. Keith O

    I also figure if your position is strong enough, you don’t need to call names like “cop-haters” and “anti-police blog,” but that’s just me.

    As a long time reader I don’t consider the Vanguard “cop-haters” but in my opinion it does have an anti-police bias.


  2. John Hobbs

    “but in my opinion it does have an anti-police bias.”

    Perhaps you meant a pro-citizen bias.

    Dunning is the perfect example of a blatherskite.  I can’t imagine anyone giving any credence to his ramblings.

  3. Colin Walsh

    The only thing that seems very clear at this point is that a full and fair investigation of the incident is warranted and that investigation must have oversight from outside of the Police Department.

    1. Ron

      David:  Based on prior comments (that I’ve seen on the news), that’s been my impression as well.

      (For some reason, I can’t see your comment again, as I’m typing this.)

  4. Ron

    From article:  “But Mr. Dunning, while probably overstating the hazard and the nature of the crowd (which is mostly dancing and having fun) and only slightly in the street . . .”

    The video shows that the crowd was blocking a full traffic lane for an extended period, with no consideration for others trying to get through.

    Another incident on the same day apparently resulted in a crowd jumping on (and heavily damaging) a young woman’s car, when she apparently made the “mistake” of honking at them, trying to get through.

    Regardless of the occassion, when did this type of thing become “o.k.”?

    1. Ron

      From article, above:  “The key part of this whole confrontation is that we still don’t know how it really started.”

      Yes – we do know how it started.  (See my comment above.)

    2. David Greenwald

      This is not a full lane of traffic being blocked, I’d argue the lane is probably passable:

      Not a full lane

      The bigger point is that you don’t use an undercover unit to clear the street, you use uniformed officers and probably none of this happens, especially if they walk up to people instead of driving into them.

    3. Ron

      Again, I can’t see your (latest) comment as I’m typing this.  However, the still frame that you are showing does not show how far the crowd ultimately blocked the traffic lane.

      In fact, the unmarked police vehicle was “in the traffic lane” when it came very close to the crowd. (Yes, that did seem somewhat aggressive to me.)

      Again, the video starts off with people knowingly breaking the law for an extended period, without consideration for others.  (Do you think that they don’t know any better?)

      1. David Greenwald

        I don’t see any point where the crowd is further out in that video. Knowingly breaking the law?  I’d guess most probably weren’t aware but again the question is not whether laws were broken but whether the police handled it properly.

        1. Ron

          The dash cam video shows that drivers couldn’t get through, and had to change lanes (creating a backup). (Without reviewing it again, I also recall the crowd extending further into the street.) Even if they weren’t, the situation was creating a safety hazard, as well as a risk of a conflict between motorists and pedestrians.

          Really?  You don’t think that people generally understand that blocking a traffic lane for an extended period is illegal and inconsiderate?  Again, that’s how the incident started.

          How the police handled it is another matter.  However, it started off with the police attempting to enforce the law, and keep traffic flowing.


        2. David Greenwald

          I think the kids at the party are not taking into consideration that they might be blocking traffic and causing a hazard.

          But again, what is important here is how the police chose to handle this not whether or not the kids should have been blocking traffic.

    4. Tia Will

      I don’t believe that anyone has opined that blocking traffic is ok. It seems to me that the question is whether the police were best attired for their role, whether driving up into extremely close proximity as they did is appropriate, whether they were respectful in their admonitions to the group to clear the street, whether or not they made it clear that they were in fact police, and whether or not they used excessive force to achieve the goal of clearing the intersection.

  5. Michael Bisch


    If you CHOOSE to watch the light sequence in the real-time video, prior to the police vehicle making the u-turn, you will see that NO car in the right lane is able to clear the intersection without merging into the left lane and they have to do so in the middle of the intersection. The crowd has effectively blocked the right lane to autos and the merging action in the middle of the intersection is significantly reducing left lane through-put as well. It’s not clear to me how you can dispute the video evidence in this regard.

    1. Keith O

      Not only that, the crowd is making it almost impossible for anyone who wants to do a U-turn from the light as the police vehicle attempted to do.  (don’t know if a U-turn is even lawful at that light)  that last entry is for the fact checker before he gets on here and pounds his chest.

      1. JosephBiello

        Hello everyone.  My 2 cents.  Please preface your reading of the following comments with “what I see is that ”

        1) David, that lane was blocked by those kids.   It was blocked enough to slow down traffic, but not blocked enough to stop traffic.

        2) However, it was clear that 200 yards down (west) the road, the lane was blocked again by a different group of kids.

        3) The police clearly passed both groups as they were moving eastbound on Russell and likely noticed both groups – which is why they made a U turn to deal with it rather than yell out their window at the kids on Russell and College park to clear the road.


        I would like to offer the following interpretation of events.  The minivan  made a U turn that was not meant to be aggressive, but rather it was meant to be demonstrative of the fact that the kids were blocking the road.  I say this because the van made a wide enough turn to “land” near the corner curb.  You can make that U Turn without approaching the corner curb.  My guess is that they did this to emphasize the point that the kids were blocking traffic.

        There was a large group of them and some noticed the U Turn and got out of the way, some did not.  Some interpreted the U Turn as an aggressive action by an unidentified civilian car.

        The U Turn begins at 1:47 on the video and the fight begins at 2:00.   That’s 13 seconds.

        That’s 13 seconds for a large group of kids to try to realize what’s going on when most of them aren’t paying attention and all of them are talking.

        That’s less than 13 seconds for the police to feel like they’ve got themselves into a mob.  Whoever stepped up to the rear right passenger door seems to have been doing it to tell off the vehicle occupants because he (in orange) may have interpreted the move aggressively.


        It is my opinion that Davis needs some re-thinking about dealing with large crowds.  I wish that had been a marked police SUV instead of an unmarked minivan.  All they would have had to do is turn their lights on and on the loud speaker tell the kids to get off the road.   Instead, being plain clothes, they had to approach them to identify themselves – at which time they entered a situation where they felt they had lost control.

        Whatever actually happened, nobody will ever know because there will be no clear audio of the beginning of the incident.   I want to let BOTH the cops and those arrested off the hook for this one.     I want to do that because I see no benefit in forcing the cops to defend their interpretation, nor do I see a benefit in prosecuting some guys for throwing punches where they probably honestly believed they were defending people.


        What I want to see is GUIDANCE from us as a city with regards to WHAT WE WILL ALLOW on Picnic Day.     I want us to arrive at a consensus about the distinction between unacceptable behavior (i.e. what happened to the young lady whose car was attacked with her in it) versus undesirable behavior (a throng of kids blocking half the road).

        We must have zero tolerance for unacceptable behavior.  We must realize that undesirable behavior occurs and, during Picnic Day,  we tread more lightly with that.

        And it is us, as a citizenry, that must set these expectations.   I think that if we have a clear conversation with our police force (who is trying to protect this city) then they will have a better sense of what they should leave and what they need to deal with.


        But, first and foremost, all police should be clearly identified on Picnic Day – that would serve as a deterrent.

        1. Howard P

          Liked your caveat… am using the same, with your permission (assuming it’s not copyrighted…)

          What I saw from the most recent video(s) is effectively complete blocking of the #2 travel lane, forcing any w-bound traffic to fully/partially merge into the #1 lane… a ‘peoples road diet’, if you will…

          We must have zero tolerance for unacceptable behavior.  We must realize that undesirable behavior occurs and, during Picnic Day,  we tread more lightly with that.

          Not sure how to practically do both simultaneously, unless you are making a distinction between “unacceptable” and “undesirable”… then we have a definitional challenge…

          Other than that, pretty much echo what you posted.

        2. JosephBiello


          I realize I didn’t make it clear in my long writing.    So let me say, cearly, yes, I do want to make a distinction between unacceptable behavior and undesirable  behavior.

          What is illegal and what is intolerable are very different things.  Two examples, speeding.  The posted speed limit on 8th street (from Anderson to B)  is 25 miles per hour.   I can, with the utmost confidence, assure you that civilians and police regularly traverse that route at 30-35 miles per hour – IMHO 40 is unacceptable.   However, I’ve never seen 30 mph get a ticket – the police allow some discretion to the civilians (and themselves).   Additionally, I live on a street where I do not even know what the speed limit is – but during school dropoff and pickup, the acceptable speed is very different than at other times.

          The second example is more relevant – “Pedestrians in the street” is an example of a cultural norm that is dealt with very different out here in California than it was in New York (from whence I came from 12 years ago).   In a big, dense city like New York, it happens that groups of pedestrians will block the street in different places – and during festivals or after football games (as was the case when I was in college).   The police would turn a blind eye or simply tell people to keep it moving.     Partially blocking the street for a brief period is “undesirable behavior” – but I personally do not think we have the resources or the will to raise it to the level of  “unacceptable behavior”.  Dealing with undesirable behavior by sometimes turning a blind eye and then sometimes dealing with it harshly is a recipe for confusion and confrontation.

          On Picnic Day, Davis turns into a big city – not a California big city, but I’m talking New York City during a street fair.     We, as a city and a university, have to ROLL WITH IT, a little bit.    We as a city have to have that conversation – what do we allow and what do we stop at all costs.

          The police do not have the resources to deal with every illegal act during Picnic Day (e.g. noise ordinance violations, public drinking, underage drinking etc, crowds lingering in the street for too long, etc).  So they have to turn a blind eye to some things (and I’m sure they do and they focus on public safety).

          But they have to do that in a way that is guided by what our norms are, as a city that hosts a University.   A zero tolerance of undesirable behavior is (in my opinion) the reflection of a city which continues to be ill at ease with the fact that 25000 University students are really children coming into adulthood – and we are hosting them and their parties.














        3. Howard P


          Thanks for the clarification… good starting point for discussions/critiques of what should be considered legal/tolerated/actionable moving forward.

          We may not agree where the line(s) should be drawn, how vividly, and how enforced (yet, we actually might agree)… but the discussion would be good/important, well in advance of next year.

        4. Ron

          In general, I’m more “accepting” of decisions to officially shut down a street to traffic, rather than “allowing” infractions to do it for us. (The latter choice will lead to conflicts.)

          My impression is that most of the problems are not caused by UCD students.

        5. JosephBiello

          @Howard, thanks also.  I’m sure we won’t exactly agree on that line – but the conversation would bring people together.  I realize that compromise is a state of affairs where nobody is 100% satisfied, but it’s the only way we can actually survive in proximity to one another.

          I hope Bob Dunning will reconsider his unequivocal statements on the Enterprise.   He’s got an important role in this city and I would hope he can find the way to seek middle ground, too.    I can be a hothead sometimes, so I feel I can forgive a person their hotheadedness (that’s my bias).




        6. JosephBiello

          @Ron, it doesn’t matter whether they are caused, exactly, by UCD students .  They are caused by party guests of UCD students, some of whom come from off campus because Picnic Day is a great party of openness.  No one of us has a monopoly on deciding what that party should  really be.  The young people decide that, with some guidance of tradition, guidance of laws, and guidance of norms.

          Regarding closing streets, I think that’s an excellent idea to explore – especially Russell, maybe Larue.   Closed to all but buses?  Who knows yet, but  we could talk about that.

          Let’s stop being absolutist about this issue.  I would also ask that we stop talking about “non UCD students” – these are people, just the same and with the same right to be at Picnic Day as anyone else.   This town exists because the state of California saw fit to build a university, for the people of California.  Picnic Day is a day of openness, opening our campus to the people of California, with all of our imperfections and allowing for some transgressions.








        7. Howard P

          There is a street closure process… often used for ‘block parties’, etc.  Done by permit.

          Requirements include advance notice (not spur of the moment); review by PD, Fire, PW; time/place/manner requirements; assumption of responsibility/liability…

          Russell Boulevard is a major arterial street, in fact, the Old Lincoln Highway… along with Covell the only through route, north of I-80, between Pole Line and SR 113.  A one lane closure, during certain hours, might be OK, if it doesn’t cause gridlock, and most importantly, does not impede emergency vehicle access.  So, not “all streets are created equal”.

          Saying that, there may still be some room for compromise, before the fact, if the core purpose of the roadway is met.

        8. Ron


          Regarding whether or not they are UCD students, you are correct that anyone can attend.  (I’m not sure that they are all “party guests” of UCD students as you state, but that doesn’t really matter either.)

          I was mostly responding to your statement, repeated below:

          ” . . . 25000 University students are really children coming into adulthood – and we are hosting them and their parties.”

          In any case, it does seem that those coming from outside the city do seem to create a disproportionate share of the problems (including the well-publicized killing that occurred outside of a downtown restaurant, a couple of years ago).  Not connected to picnic day, of course.

          I do not have a “solution” for this.  Just noting it.


        9. JosephBiello

          @Howard,  yeah, close it to private cars, for example. But these are details.   Cities do this with major arterials all the time.

          @Ron, you may be right, but I would also point out that the worst Picnic Day incident that occurred in the decade or so that I’ve been here was the tragic death in 2011 of a UC Davis student.   (I’m focusing on Picnic Day here, I don’t want to minimize the Ket Mo Rhee shooting).




        10. Michael Bisch

          “No one of us has a monopoly on deciding what that party should  really be.  The young people decide that, with some guidance of tradition, guidance of laws, and guidance of norms.”

          Joseph, it sounds like I’m a lone voice on this, but I draw the line at carrying ammunition and/or guns while attending Picnic Day.

          “The suspect that motioned he was pulling a gun was arrested several blocks away. We did not find a gun on him, but he did have ammunition on him. We don’t whether he tossed a gun.”

        11. JosephBiello

          @Michael,  you got it, I agree.  I’m not interested in seeing weapons at any public events especially given all the drinking going on.     I don’t want to jump to a conclusion that there was a gun, however – it wasn’t actually seen, unfortunately.   One of the (many) problems with handguns is that they are easy to toss.


  6. Ron

    David:  Still having problems seeing your comments when logged in, so I’ll just re-paste them below:

    “I think the kids at the party are not taking into consideration that they might be blocking traffic and causing a hazard.”

    “But again, what is important here is how the police chose to handle this not whether or not the kids should have been blocking traffic.”

    By “kids at the party”, do you mean the same individuals who were blocking a traffic lane for an extended period (creating a visible backup right next to them), and were effectively able to immediately fight and injure police officers (whether or not they were properly identified)?

    Granted, the blocking of traffic is a relatively minor infraction, and I understand how it can “spread” within a crowd.  (Overall, I suspect that the incident could have been handled better.)


    1. Howard P

      Yeah, the collective BAC was probably ‘high’ enough to both carelessly block the travel lane and still leave some immediately open to a fight. Guessing ~0.10 BAC…

      The “bottle” was probably not a plastic one of Aquafina…

  7. Tia Will

    Cities do this with major arterials all the time.”

    And there is plenty of precedent for road closures here in Davis. We do this annually for both the bicycle races and the fun run ( called the Turkey Trot ?). Seems this could be adapted to Picnic Day as well if felt advantageous.

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