Two Dozen People Speak Out on Picnic Day Incident, Police Oversight During Public Comment

Gloria Partida, founder and president of the Davis Phoenix Coalition, expresses disappointment

Tuesday marked the first Davis City Council meeting since the Picnic Day incident came to light on April 24.  About two dozen people spoke during public comment, with comments ranging from disappointment to questions about the choice of former Sacramento County Sheriff John McGinness as investigator to calls for the police chief to be fired.

Will Kelly said, “If (John McGinness) is Davis police’s first choice for who should be leading this investigation, they shouldn’t get to make a second choice.  There’s no excuse for choosing someone like that and I think that is a clear indication that the police cannot police themselves.”

He called for an immediate investigation and asked that the council not allow the community anger to subside.  “There needs to be a broader question about what were these officers doing patrolling downtown in plainclothes and an unmarked vehicle engaging so aggressively with a crowd of people for nothing more than standing in the street.”

Mr. Kelly noted that, back in January, hundreds, maybe thousands of people gathered in the park following the hate crime on the Mosque.  “We didn’t have all the facts then, we didn’t know who committed this attack or what their motivation was and Mayor Davis you could have gotten up on that stage and said, let’s reserve judgment, let’s not jump to any conclusions, let’s go home and let the police conduct their investigation.”

Instead, he said, the mayor “showed real courage in talking about our collective shame.”  We can’t explain away that attack as an isolated incident, instead we need to acknowledge that we’re all responsible.  “I urge you all to speak up about this,” he said.

Stephanie Perrera urged the council “to take action against racism and police abuse in our community.”  She said, “On top of their violence, on top of their lies, Davis Police hired an overt racist, John McGinness, to investigate the incident.  Last Friday he said on his radio show that he believed black people were better off before the passage of the Civil Rights Act.

“Thankfully he is now removed from the case, but I have no faith that the department will handle this ethically from here on out,” she said.

She called on the council to fire the officers involved in this incident, order the charges against the three men to be dropped immediately and formally apologize for the abuse that they have endured.  She said, “Fire Chief Pytel had a direct role in hiring John McGinness.  Pytel knew what he was doing when he hired a racist investigator to take over this case, and he is unfit from here on out to handle this case.”

She then turned her criticism to Mayor Robb Davis, saying, “You said you will not comment on this until this investigation is complete.  I reject your passive stance.  Your passivity is complicity.”

Tanya Sweeney, who lives in that neighborhood, said she was particularly concerned that police “thought it was a choice for them as undercover police to drive an unmarked vehicle into a crowd of people and then get out of the car and begin yelling and assaulting people.

“If Davis is truly interested in being a city that leads in the way of social justice issues the police officers involved need to be fired, arrested, investigated in a meaningful way for the assault that they committed,” she said.  “Action must be taken by the city to show that we know that the university is for all, and no group will be singled out by racial profiling and police brutality.”

Like others, she demanded that the charges be dropped and the police chief be fired.

Connor Gorman brought up the larger issue, noting that “many people of Davis think of Davis as a liberal sanctuary where these types of bigoted behavior and oppressive issues don’t exist and that is just not true.”  He said that “these things are very much present in Davis as a community.”

Many people do not experience these on a regular basis, “but they are still there.”

Cecilia Escamilla-Greenwald recalled the events of 2006 and said “it really divided the community.”  But she also pointed to the work that a citizen group did in 2015 meeting with the police to create a new restorative process for complaint resolution.  She called on the community to work with the police to address the current issues that have come forward now.

Another commenter, Robin, said it was common knowledge among people of color that “the police here (are) racist.”  She said she has heard from people of color “they never come to Davis because every time they do they get pulled over.

“It’s very frustrating that we have to wait until a spectacular example that is videotaped, that we begin to discuss this in a more blunt manner.

“You can’t possibly ask the police to police themselves,” she added.

Dean Johansson noted a long history of Davis where he has been involved in several instances of this coming to the forefront.  “The speaker who spoke about a conflict of interest goes to the heart of the matter, there needs to be some sort oversight.”

Al Rojas receives his award from the council earlier in the evening

Al Rojas earlier in the evening was honored with the Thong Hy Huynh award for his lifetime of work on behalf of social justice issues.

“What are we going to do in the community to hear the people’s cries that are saying that there is something not right here,” he said.  “When we talk about racism, it’s real.  When we talk about hate, it’s real.”

He likened the situation to the Luis Gutierrez shooting, where the young farm worker was walking down the street in broad daylight and was stopped by three undercover Yolo County Gang Task Force officers.  They ended up shooting and killing him.

“The real issue was to what lengths do you go when you see these things happen repetitively in these kinds of incidents where there’s no sensitivity and no accountability of the police officers,” he said.  The 2009 case, he said, “ended up in a whitewash.”

“Do something before something really tragic happens,” he added.

Desiree Rojas said, “There needs to be an independent investigation to be able to find the problems – the seriousness of this problems.”  She said, “The message that you’re sending our community is to trust the officers, but how do we trust the officers when they’re coming in disguised as something that doesn’t look like an officer.  How do you expect people to trust and to know how to react (if you don’t know who is coming at you)?”

Gloria Partida noted that she grew up in Southern California in a neighborhood targeted by Darrell Gates.  “So I understand what bad policing is,” she said.  She came to Davis and said, “I have had really good experiences with the police department.”

But here, she said, “I was disappointed when I heard that the investigation was going to be done the way that it was and it just felt that it was not in keeping with the standards that we have set in our city.”

Colin Walsh noted that he was in school when Thong Hy Huynh was murdered in 1983.  “Growing up in Davis as a white person, the issue of race was always something I had to self-evaluate and think about.”  He said, “It was not an easy place for people of color growing up here.”  He called for “a great deal of introspection.

“The police need to look at themselves and the police also need to be held accountable,” he added.

Jennifer Higley-Chapman said, “Despite what some people want to believe, the Davis police, no matter how nice they might seem as individual people, are part of a criminal justice system that treats black lives and other marginalized communities as though they matter less.”

Emily Hill said, “Even before this process, I was surprised and concerned to learn that the auditor was leaving and not going to renew his contract in part because of lack of cooperation from the police department, and I’d really like to urge the council, in the wake of his departure, that we set up an independent citizen’s committee to have independent oversight over the police.”

Sean Raycraft asked, “What made them think that this was a good idea to try to clear a street corner using an unmarked police car without sufficiently identifying themselves?  Why did they think that jumping to violence was the best course of action at that time?”

He suggested a uniformed police officer using a bullhorn would have been far more effective.

—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

    Why is this a racial incident?  Because there happened to be some black people in that crowd?  So any time that the Davis Police Dept. has to take some type of action where blacks are involved is it to be considered racism?

    1. David Greenwald

      What was interesting to me is how few people I knew from previous incidents.  For example, 24 people spoke last night, only 3 of them were around in 2006 and that includes myself and my wife.

  2. Keith O

    Chief Pytel has been a good addition to the DPD.  He walks a fine line in this town of having to protect its citizens while at the same time placate those who will cry police racism and brutality at any opportunity.  I don’t envy his job.  For people to be calling for him to be fired is just wrong and a gross overreaction.

    1. David Greenwald

      Chief Pytel has now made two critical errors – he brought in the MRAP and he decided to bring on John McGinness.  Neither one had unforeseen consequences.  I’ve always had respect for him because he was willing to work with us, but this is a bit of a head-scratcher – again.

        1. Tia Will


          Not David, but would like to provide my answer to the question “Who is us?”

          For me, “us” is the citizens of Davis. Or at least those who are engaged enough to want to participate. I have had a great respect for now Chief Pytel ever since his taped interactions with the crowd at the time of the pepper spray incident where his actions stood in stark contrast to those of Pike. At the time, I felt that he was a model of community policing.

          I agree with David that Chief Pytel has made two significant errors in misreading the Davis community. The first was in not going with his own initial judgement about the acceptability of the MRAP at least enough to engage with the City Council and community regarding his reservations prior to acquisition.  In my eyes, he rectified his error by his subsequent engagement with the community at forums to discuss the MRAP and other police needs in our community openly.

          Now, almost 3 years later, we have what would appear to be another error in judgement. I do not pretend to know why plain clothes police in an unmarked vehicle were used, nor whether or not there is good justification for this strategy. However, what I do know is that the choice of an individual so clearly biased, as illustrated by his own words, as Mr. McGinness, is clearly out of step with proclaimed Davis values of respect for all community members and visitors. This appears particularly egregious in view of the presence of a city employee already available in our community whose job is such reviews.

          I certainly would not call for the firing of Chief Pytel, or anyone else at this point. A complete impartial investigation of all aspects of this incident is warranted.



        2. Keith O

          That’s what I thought David.  As long as he works with the liberal advocate social justice part of the community than he’s acceptable?  Is that about right?

        3. David Greenwald

          The comment was: I’ve always had respect for him because he was willing to work with us, but this is a bit of a head-scratcher – again.  

          To your comment: The only problem with your comment is that working with us was preferable to someone who was not interested in working with us, but it wasn’t enough to excuse rather glaring errors.

        4. Matt Williams

          Tia, wasn’t the MRAP issue during Landy Black’s tenure?  I think Pytel was Assistant Chief at that time.

          David, is that your recollection?

          1. David Greenwald

            When we had the meeting at the Senior Center following the first decision by the council to send by the MRAP, Darren explained that people had come to him about acquiring it, initially he felt it wouldn’t fly but then he became convinced they needed it, so he pushed Landy to acquire it. So while it happened under Landy’s tenure, he’s the one who initiated it.

        5. Matt Williams

          Thanks David and Howard,

          I never interacted with Darren about it, only Landy (chasing down historical use numbers on the then-existing armored vehicle), so I didn’t “experience” Darren’s involvement.

  3. Keith O

    Another thing I don’t understand is why is McGuinness being labeled a racist?  Maybe he made a misinformed comment on his radio show last Friday but does that deserve being called a racist?  Does he have a history of racist comments or is this just piling on because our local activists saw an opening in order to drive him off the investigation?

      1. Keith O

        Did he say that?  Nobody has mentioned that that I’ve seen.  That’s why I asked if he had a history of these types of comments.  Or are you just putting out an analogy?

      2. Howard P

        Todd… Keith may not realize it, but your comparison fails (probably too focused on the words ‘jews’ and Nuremberg)… the Sheriff said blacks were better off before civil rights acts… your comparison fails both as to timing (before vs. after) and ‘freeing’ vs ‘subjugation’… 180 degrees off on both key elements.  Failure.  Well actually, expect you knew that, but figured others would not.

        Had you compared ‘were blacks better off after the passage of Jim Crow laws’, to Jews/Nuremberg laws, that would have made sense…

    1. Tia Will

      Since I previously knew nothing about Mr. McGuiness, I decided to look into the primary source, his radio show. I listened to three of his programs, chosen at random. Other than the rather ill informed, but not necessarily racist comments in the program cited by David, there were no other suggestions of racism in my limited sampling. However, there was plenty of indication of a lack of impartiality. He is absolutely clear in each program about his philosophic predisposition to see actions of the police in a positive light. There is absolutely nothing wrong in this as in a radio program. I see a great deal wrong with it in someone who is supposedly conducting an independent investigation including the possibility of police wrongdoing. On the basis of this admittedly very small sampling of programs from the month of May, I see no reason to look for any racial bias, there is plenty of openly expressed pro police bias to make him an inappropriate choice for this investigation.

      1. Keith O

        Tia Will, that was a very reasoned analysis and you make a good case as to why you might not like him to lead the investigation.  But others defining him as a racist I feel borders on slander.

        1. David Greenwald

          It’s not slander or libel, it’s people taking information and jumping to a more extreme conclusion than you’re willing to take.  That’s a difference of opionion and wouldn’t be actionable because they would easily state a basis for the conclusion that is reasonable.  I’m not convinced that he is racist, I am convinced that he is rather uninformed and also that he’s not very sensitive to how his words would be interpreted in circles different from his own.

        2. Keith O

          Liberals/Progressives are too eager to throw the ‘racist’ tag at others.  It’s like their go to word when they don’t agree with or like other’s opinions.  Once someone is falsely branded it’s hard for them to repair their reputation.  The word ‘racist’ shouldn’t be thrown around too easily and recklessly.   Words have consequences.

        3. David Greenwald

          Come on the guy said African Americans were better off before 1964 Civil Rights Act – he really loses the benefit of the doubt at that point.

        4. Keith O

          Really?  So are you saying it’s okay to call him a racist over his opinion on how well blacks have done since the 1964 Civil Rights Act?

      2. Matt Williams

        Tia, thank you for sharing your research and assessment.  It is very helpful for those of us who don’t have the time to, or choose not to, do primary research on this subject.

  4. Keith O

    So was this just a coincidence that two dozen people showed up to denounce our police department and/or air their grievances about the incident or was it prearranged through some local activist group or organization?

        1. Howard P

          You used the conjunction “or” in your question… my response was “yes”… as in “one, or the other, or both”… at a 99% confidence level I KNEW that. Divine revelation, as it were… you left nothing in between the two posits you made.

          I stand my my response, to your question, as asked.

        2. Howard P

          Well, you are at least half so, by asking a question appearing to be “black or white”… (pun unintended)

          You were, apparently, trying to provoke folk to go to one extreme or the other.  you appear to have been looking for an opportunity to refute/argue… a “game”… I chose a different game.

          The truth is, the topic was not on the agenda (no action possible, and many of the speakers probably knew that).  Posturing, venting, perhaps even looking to provoke.  But public comment is public comment.

          Was your ‘question’ so different? Except forum?

    1. Matt Williams

      Keith, my observations from my seat in the Chamber was that there was unity of opinion and unity of purpose; however, I did not get a sense that the comments were orchestrated.  The commenters appeared to be passionate in their beliefs, and also appeared to have taken the time to organize their personal thoughts into a coherent individual message.  There was surprisingly little redundancy in what was said.

      I also personally felt I was in a time machine, back in Ithaca, New York during the Spring of 1969 . . . or in Woodstock later that summer.  In each of those cases, like minds came together naturally . . . organically.  On a much smaller scale, last night had that same spontaneous meeting of minds.

      With that said, there were a lot of people in Council Chambers who quietly and politely sat back and watched and listened as the comments unfolded.

  5. EricGudz

    Great reporting David, and thank you for highlighting many of the comments presented in the Community Chambers. It seems that we have a genuine opportunity to pioneer an updated, more effective civilian oversight process (benefiting the communities in Davis as well as our police force in the long term), and it appears that the City Council is moving in that direction as well.

  6. Sharla C.

    I don’t think we should be talking about firing police officers or the police chief.  I don’t think that should be the purpose or goal of any investigation here, unless the facts absolutely warrant it.  I do think a careful look and the creation of and enforcement of a policy requiring officers to be uniformed in all secondary employments, especially on Picnic Day, when dealing with crowds or traffic issues would help.  I have to believe that if uniformed police directed the pedestrians to get back on the sidewalk, they would have likely complied.   We have to remember that people were injured – head injuries.  We need policies that help to keep our officers safe, as well as the public.

  7. Todd Edelman

    Control the number of vehicles that can enter Davis and the campus and open half of Russell to people. If this was the case on this Picnic Day, the people “in the street” would be legal,  and the DPD wouldn’t have had a reason to stop. No one would have gotten hurt.

    1. David Greenwald

      You have an interesting point that I’ll take in a different direction – we have for the last five years or so tried to fight parties and noise, what if instead for one day, we embraced the parties and noise and simply did our best to mitigate risk to bystanders?

      1. Howard P

        A one day exception for ignoring all ordinances/codes/laws, unless that turns out to result in third party damages and/or injuries?  Interesting concept…

        1. David Greenwald

          I’m not saying ignoring all ordinances, but what I am suggesting is creating spaces for people who want to drink and party to do so perhaps more safely

  8. Claire Benoit

    It’s probably best that someone perceived to be racist doesn’t head an investigation on an incident that has been (for better/worse) racialized…

    but i feel it’s possible the words of John McGinness are possibly being taken out of context or misunderstood… is it possible that he is criticizing the efficiency of the Civil Rights Act rather than suggesting blacks aren’t entitled to equality. From what I read in a previous article to me; he seemed to be rather insightful and was criticizing the CRA; not black entitlement to equality.

    a lot of well meaning policies have been successful only in expressed intentions, but have failed to deliver true honest results….   No?

    someone posted that black incarcerations and poverty rates haven’t changed… only basic education and employment has. If that’s the case then it’s almost like a modern plantation with a different sort of “house” and the same slave system at work… right?

    If you consider that slaves were being secretly educated and under the table work was probably more prevalent prior to CRA (as it is now among illegals) then it would make sense (and cents) for the system to be tweaked to allow for taxation (more legal work) and the pacifying illusion of improvement via a better education statistic even if that itself is probably misleading…

    I’m guessing a great many illiterate blacks had more gainful skills to start businesses than many do now…

    1. David Greenwald

      His comments were ill-informed and ill-considered AT BEST. We can argue all day over whether they were actually racist or just ignorant. If you look at the big picture, you’ll see that African Americans are better educated, there are far more in the middle class, and they have a much better quality of life, but there is also a huge divide between the haves and have nots, and the result is that the poverty rate remains high and incarceration rates went way up but that’s the whole New Jim Crow/ Mass Incarceration point that Michelle Alexander makes.

      1. Keith O

        Here’s a different view of “How the 1964 Civil Rights Act cost Black America” from the New African publication.  Their vision is “To offer a unique insight into African affairs, from an African perspective.”
        So David, are they ill-informed and are their statements ill-considered AT BEST?
        Obviously this is an issue that’s not cut and dried and racist as some would have you believe and is open to debate.

          1. David Greenwald

            I continue to maintain the argument they put forward is ignorant regardless of the source.

        1. Keith O

          Here’s yet another view that shows this issue is open for discussion:

          At the signing of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, 87 percent of black homes were married, two-parent homes, and 40 percent of blacks were business owners. But 50 years after the signing of the Civil Rights Act, 49 years after the introduction of the Great Society initiatives and 46 years after the introduction of race-based affirmative action, blacks disproportionately represent practically every undesirable category.
          Unlike before bigoted neo-Leninist liberals convinced blacks that they couldn’t make it without their help, blacks today have the highest percentage of out-of-wedlock births and the highest percentage of abortions. They have the highest percentage of single-parent homes and the highest percentage of children being raised by a family member other than their biological parents. Blacks comprise the highest percentage of incarcerants, the highest percentage of high school dropouts, the highest percentage of college dropouts, the highest percentage living in poverty and the highest percentage of unemployed.


        2. Keith O

          Don Shor writes “You really cite the weirdest sources.”
          Then he uses Jeff Rense to refute my source, here’s a little about Jeff Rense:

          Jeffry Shearer Renseis an Americanradio talk-showhost. His show, theJeff Rense Program, publishes variousconspiracy theories, and was formerly broadcast viasatellite radio, which remains archivedonline.[1][2]
          Rense’sradio programandwebsitepromote views such as9/11 conspiracy theories,[3]UFOreporting,paranormal phenomena,creation of diseases,chemtrails, evidence of advancedancient technology,emergent energy technologies, andalternative medicine.
          Rense’s writings and website have been deemedanti-semiticby theAnti-Defamation Leagueand theSouthern Poverty Law Center.[4][5]

          LOL, chemtrails anyone?
          Don Shor, you really cite the wierdest sources.

  9. Sean Raycraft

    Wow Keith O! The profound ignorance and cognitive dissonance of that quote is astounding. Neo Leninist Liberals? Leninists and liberals are in fact mutually exclusive. Before the civil rights act of 1964, Black people were legally politically disempowered. I would argue this continues to be the case in the form of gerrymandering and voter suppression in the form of voter ID restrictions. The conditions you describe may be accurate in a sense, but they lack context. Black and brown neighborhoods are over policed, and over time this creates conditions of institutional racism, as Black and Brown people face higher penalties for the same crimes. If youre poor and black you go to jail for drugs. If youre rich and white, you go to rehab. Growing up in segregated communities, to which you allude, with concentrated poverty only worsens existing policing problems and crime for future generations, as the education system faces more and more problems.

    Lastly Ill just remind you that in areas of rural white poverty, drug addiction, abortions, teen pregnancy etc are now huge problems, and arguably are responsible for the rise of Trumpism.

    1. Keith O

      drug addiction, abortions, teen pregnancy etc are now huge problems, and arguably are responsible for the rise of Trumpism.

      What a naive statement, that would be like saying drug addiction, abortions and teen pregnancy in black areas are arguably responsible for blacks voting almost exclusively for Democrats.

      1. Sean Raycraft

        I love how you totally ignore the substance of the argument to continue your cognitive dissonance. Whatever floats your boat man.

        Since you seem to want to have the discussion, lets do that. There is now rural white generational poverty, especially in places hit hard by de industrialization. This has been part of the rise of Trumpism, simply because these people are now suffering, and are going to have a lower quality of life than their parents, and their children will have a lower quality of life than they have. They are angry, and while they may not fully understand the macro economic forces causing their suffering, they understand the car plant shutting down. They understand the coal mining jobs disappearing. They also know that life was better when those things were around.

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