The Police Should Be on Trial

by Steve Hampton

The Yolo County district attorney is charging five people, including three black men, with assaulting police officers in connection with the Picnic Day “brawl.” Prosecuting attorney Ryan Couzens will have a difficult job.

The first time I watched the video, I saw a crowd of mixed race, including black, young people on a street corner standing around and talking. Families rode past on bicycles and there were no signs of tension or conflict. It was a peaceful scene. I wondered where this brawl would come from.

Suddenly, this black van does a sharp U-turn and aggressively stops next to the crowd. This occurs at 1:58 in the dashcam video posted at the Davis Police Department website. Someone goes to the passenger-side window and it appears that words are exchanged. But not many words, because at 2:00 the door opens aggressively into the person, a large white guy jumps out with fist raised and by 2:01 another big white guy jumps out and all hell is breaking lose, with a bunch of the crowd members fighting off these two guys from the van.

The first time I watched, it was clear to me these apparently big drunk white guys basically attacked this crowd. Certainly, they transformed a peaceful scene into total mayhem in less than three seconds. In fact, it happens so fast that the Davis police released a slow-motion version of the video.

But now Bob Dunning, the Davis Police Department and the Yolo County prosecutor want me to believe that these two thugs were actually the cops and, that, in 2 1/2 seconds, they identified themselves as police officers (since they were plainclothes in an unmarked car — a funny way to do crowd control at a large event) and they presumably politely asked the crowd to scoot a few more feet out of the roadway.

Then, because it was an onerous request and a cause worth fighting for, I’m supposed to believe that the crowd members instantly, in whatever remained of the 2 1/2 seconds , decided to physically assault the police officers. Really?

The cops escalated the situation so quickly and so dramatically that it has the appearance of a pre-meditated attack, as if they were enforcing an old rule from apartheid South Africa, that blacks cannot meet in groups of three or more.

In Davis, at least, that seems to be a threshold that arouses suspicion. I don’t know what words were said in the first two seconds, but I do know it’s the cops that should be on trial.

Steve Hampton is a Davis resident

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Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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  1. John Hobbs

    “The first time I watched, it was clear to me these apparently big drunk white guys basically attacked this crowd.”

    Me, too. Were the offending officers drug tested after the incident?

    ” I don’t know what words were said in the first two seconds, but I do know it’s the cops that should be on trial.”

    They certainly warrant more scrutiny. It looks like the powers that be are sweeping as fast as they can to get this incident under the rug.

  2. Tia Will


    I do not think that anyone is literally claiming that the police were inebriated. But try looking at this from a picnic day point of view. If you are standing on a corner, or even spilling into the street thoughtlessly, would it not be reasonable to think that someone ( from your point of view) driving recklessly, dangerously, and aggressively towards you and your companions might be drunk ?  On Picnic Day ?  In Davis ?  That simply does not sound like an unreasonable possibility to me.

    Once you have arrived at that erroneous conclusion, would it not then be reasonable ( again from your point of view) to defend your companions from these violent drunken men ?  If I were a woman in the crowd, I certainly hope that one of my companions would come to my defense if I were pinned by an individual not identified as police.

    1. Keith O

       driving recklessly, dangerously, and aggressively towards you and your companions might be drunk ?

      Watch the video, the cops weren’t driving recklessly and dangerously.  They were making a U-turn but the crowd spillage wouldn’t permit it.  I think the two key things are what were the initial interactions when the cops were still in the car and did the cops identify themselves in a reasonable amount of time?

  3. Tia Will


    I appreciate and respect your difference of opinion on the arrival of the van. Having watched this several times, I still think that I would have been at least startled if not frightened had a van pulled up in that close proximity to me unexpectedly.  Of course, what startles me, you may see as completely benign. On the other points, I agree.

  4. John Hobbs

    “I hope you’re not on ‘the cops were drunk’ train.”

    Apparently you are not familiar with cop culture.


    One widely cited study found that close to 23 percent of officers surveyed had serious issues regarding alcohol consumption, including alcoholism and/or binge drinking. That represents nearly one in four police officers. Other studies have measured rates as high as 33 percent of officers. The numbers may be higher for those in uniform who work in an urban setting. The prevalence of alcoholism among law enforcement personnel is more than double that of the general population. This can be seen most readily in one large-scale study in which none of those surveyed had alcohol problems in their first service year, but this jumped to 27 percent in the second year and then to 36 percent in the fourth year.”
    Alcoholism Among Law Enforcement Personnel: Its Unique Challenges
    Whereas alcohol abuse, substance abuse, other associated health-related problems can create liability for a police department and compromise its effectiveness, police officials typically do nothing to prevent or mitigate the problems but instead react punitively once a troubled officer’s behaviors get out of hand (Lumb and Breazeale, 2002)

    On my non-public safety civil service job, if I had a truck backfire in an intersection and a citizen complained, I got drug tested, I think that is a reasonable request for the cops.

  5. Howard P

    Let’s look at John H’s numbers… and Mr Hampton’s assertion that at least 2, if not all 3 officers were drunk.

    He cites info that says 23 % of police are alcoholics… so, 77% are not… that means that the odds that none of the three officers are alcoholic is about 45%.  And the chance that all three are is about 1% (that two are, is ~5%).

    Left out is the fact someone can be under the influence without being an alcoholic, and many alcoholics stay perfectly sober while working.  Also left out is the %-ages of Davis PD compared to the ‘population’ cited in the link.

    Guess I’m saying, useless information… except for speculation for whatever the motivation might be…


  6. John Hobbs

    Here’s the thing, Howard, I thought the cops looked drunk, other people saw it the same way. Now you probably haven’t really watched any video beyond a cursory glance. I just want to know if the cops were drug tested after this event. As I stated earlier, I have been drug tested after running over a curb to avoid a pedestrian, so I just wonder if they got tested after nearly hitting a crowd of people with their vehicle.

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