Unless something changes, the city of Davis is expected to finalize an agreement on Monday that would name McGregor Scott as the Independent Investigator charged with investigating the Picnic Day incident.
It was a little over a year ago that Mr. Scott, along with Melinda Haag from the firm Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, investigated allegations against Chancellor Linda Katehi that she improperly used student funds, engaged in nepotism, and issued misstatements about her role in an effort to scrub her image and the school’s in online postings.
While their findings were somewhat mixed, they served as the basis for the August 2016 resignation of the former chancellor.
Mr. Scott is based in Sacramento and was a U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of California.
Prior to the Katehi investigation, Mr. Scott was probably best known as the prosecutor who led the Lodi investigation, which he inherited when he became a U.S. attorney in the federal court system under President George W. Bush.
Mr. Scott will be asked to shine light on a situation that has grown into a full blown scandal in the wake of an incendiary press release by the Davis Police Department that the officers on Picnic Day had their van surrounded and were assaulted by a mob.
Video that has been released has painted a more nuanced picture, and one thing the investigator will need to unravel is what the officers said initially, what the exchanges were between the officers and the crowd that led to the violence, and whether the officers ever properly identified themselves.
The initial investigator, John McGinness, was let go shortly after revelations came out of incendiary comments on his talk radio show first reported by the Vanguard.
“If you look at certain groups within our broad population – for example, African-Americans – in this country did much, much, much, much better before the Civil Rights Act. Yeah, believe it or not they did,” Mr. McGinness said during his May 12 program.
“Economic growth, intact families, children being raised by both parents, completion of education, at least through high school,” he said. “Those statistical data were better before the Civil Rights Act.”
That was enough for Councilmember Will Arnold who said, “I have thus far remained silent regarding the Picnic Day incident in hopes of allowing an independent, unprejudiced investigation to take place. But the recent on-air statements of former Sheriff McGinness are beyond the pale, reveal an ignorant and insensitive view toward African-Americans, and threaten the very independence and lack of prejudice we must preserve.
“Therefore, I am calling for the immediate replacement of Sheriff McGinness to lead this investigation.”
That led to a statement by Chief Darren Pytel: “John McGinness has withdrawn from his engagement with the City regarding the inquiry into events on Picnic Day.
“Mr. McGinness does not wish for this matter to become about him as opposed to about the substantive issues being investigated,” he said.
Mr. McGinness later would tell the Bee that “he wasn’t ready to reach any conclusions but said he’d seen ‘nothing that seems improper’ in how police handled the Picnic Day situation. He said it would have been harder to walk away if there had been evidence of wrongdoing.”
In 2003, McGregor Scott became the US Attorney for the Eastern District of California where he inherited the federal government’s investigation of a possible network of Al Qaeda operatives in Lodi.
According to Frontline, “The case drew national attention and resulted in the deportation of two imams from the community and the 2006 conviction of a young man, Hamid Hayat, for attending a terrorist training camp in Pakistan. The trial of Hamid’s father Umer ended in a mistrial.”
In a 2006 interview with Frontline, Mr. Scott explained, “We viewed Mr. Khan as really more of a long-term threat in terms of coming to this country, and by his own declarations, stating that he desired to establish a madrassa like the one that his father had set up in Pakistan.
“That obviously was of concern to us because it preached a certain tenet of Islam which is antithetical to the best interests of the United States. So we were concerned about that from a long-term perspective.”
Critics complained that the government’s case was overblown and that there was never a real terror cell or threat arising out of Lodi.
“We cannot definitively say in any way, shape or form that there is a direct link to Al Qaeda, but what we need to remember here is that there are many organizations which espouse the Islamic religion, which hate the West and want to kill Westerners, are here to destroy our way of life and that are not Al Qaeda,” he said.
Basim Elkarra, the regional director of CAIR (Council on American-Islamic Relations) called the trial and 24-year sentence ‘a gross injustice,’ complaining that Judge Burrell excluded key witnesses and evidence and ‘gave the prosecution break after break.’
“The government sent a clear message to the Muslim community,” Mr. Elkarra told the LA Times in 2007. “You do not speak to an FBI agent unless you have an attorney present.”
The Times noted, “During the initial days after the arrest of Hamid Hayat, federal law enforcement officials repeatedly boasted that they had uncovered an Al Qaeda terrorist cell in Lodi, 35 miles south of Sacramento.
“But the facts of the case ended up far narrower in scope. Scott, the federal prosecutor, said he never personally made a declaration about a terrorist cell, but he apologized nonetheless.”
“To the extent we may have created false expectations, I regret that,” he said.
Mr. Scott will now be asked to untangle what transpired on Picnic Day. The initial account from the city was that “three Davis Police Officers working on Picnic Day were traveling on Russell Blvd in an unmarked police vehicle when the officers encountered a large group of people in the roadway who were blocking traffic.
“Before the officers could act, the unmarked police vehicle was surrounded by a large hostile group and several subjects began to yell threats at the police officers in the car. One subject quickly moved to simulate he was pulling a gun on the officers. As the officers exited the car and began to identify themselves as the police, two officers were immediately physically attacked by multiple suspects and beaten on the ground. While on the ground, the officers were kicked, punched in the head, and one officer was struck with a bottle on the side of his head,” the account continued.
But eyewitness accounts disputed this version and the release of video at least casts doubt on the official account. There are questions about how the incident transpired, what was exchanged between police and defendants, and whether the police officers properly identified themselves at the scene.
Five individuals are facing assault and resisting arrest charges. The job of the investigator, however, will be to determine whether the police acted properly.
The Vanguard will have more on the appointment of McGregor Scott after the official announcement by the city.
—David M. Greenwald reporting
Vanguard Monthly Conclave: Creating a Workable Model For Police Oversight in Our Community
Wednesday, June 28 at 6 PM – 8 PM
Sophia’s Thai Kitchen
129 E St, Davis, California 95616
The Vanguard Monthly Conclave in June features a pertinent discussion on police oversight – what we are doing now, what models are available, and why we need it.
Discussion will feature:
Nora Oldwin, People Power, Davis
Darren Pytel, Davis Police Chief
Aaron Zisser, Police Oversight Consultant
Event will be held at Sophia’s Thai Kitchen in the patio
Doors open at 6 pm, event starts at 6:30
Admission is free but there is a suggested sliding scale $15 to $50 donation
A portion of the proceeds at the bar will go to the Vanguard