Two weeks ago, the Vanguard and the Davis Phoenix Coalition had a forum about Picnic Day and police oversight and Police Chief Darren Pytel, who sat on the panel, was asked to evaluate things that went wrong with the handling of Picnic Day in advance of whatever else they learn from the completion of the McGregor Scott investigation into the conduct of police officers.
Chief Pytel did not hesitate and said that it was a mistake for officers in plainclothes to do traffic enforcement – and indicated that they quickly changed department policy about how plainclothes officers conduct themselves and the steps that they will take to avoid what happened at Picnic Day.
The chief was very adamant about this – which I think is a big deal because everything that took place during the brief altercation between the three officers and the five Picnic Day defendants stemmed from the initial exchange.
It is important to note that the view of the chief has evolved and some of the defenders of the police on this incident have not.
For example, a letter on October 18 from Elaine Roberts Musser criticized former Davis City Councilmember Debbie Nichols Poulos, who wrote on October 13 in a letter entitled “Why Won’t Our Police Take Responsibility?” that “… it is clear … the plain-clothed officers in the unmarked SUV took the initial aggressive action by swerving into the crowd …”
Ms. Roberts Musser responds, “The crowd Nichols Poulos refers to was in the middle of the right-hand lane on Russell Boulevard, blocking traffic. Drivers couldn’t use the right lane without hitting someone. Would the preferred action have been for law enforcement to do nothing, allowing a potentially dangerous situation to turn deadly?”
It might have been helpful if Ms. Roberts Musser had attended the forum, because Chief Pytel had a number of suggestions about how the police should have handled the situation differently – starting with the notion that they use uniformed officers any time they have to interact with the public in such a clear way.
If you watch the video, which has since been taken from the internet, you can see that what set off Angelica Reyes, and by extension Antwoine Perry, was the officers driving the van into the crowd
Ms. Roberts Musser argues that in the video “it is obvious when the police officers exited their SUV, they were pummeled by members of the crowd.” What I saw was a confrontation between the police and a few people outside, and when Sgt. Ramos opened his door, pretty much into Mr. Perry, that instigated the violence.
Ms. Roberts Musser writes, “I saw no justification for such an assault, even if the crowd believed the occupants of the SUV to be members of the public. Thuggish vigilanteism is not acceptable.”
We never got to see the full evidence there. It is not clear what was verbally exchanged and it is also not clear whether Mr. Perry and others thought the occupants of the van were a threat to them and they were defending themselves.
Ms. Roberts Musser then proceeds to quote a September 1 article where one of the attorneys for a defendant said, “Mistakes were made by all parties in the case … Through … restorative justice … all parties are both vindicated and also educated.”
That was attorney Mark Reichel.
Ms. Roberts Musser concludes, “If defendants, the police and the prosecutor are satisfied, why stir the pot? Let restorative justice take its course …”
I remain a believer in restorative justice, but I think Ms. Roberts Musser gets a lot of things wrong in her analysis, starting with the police acknowledgement that the initial approach, which she defends, was completely inappropriate.
The defendants are not satisfied with this process. They took a deal here that they had to take because, if it went to trial and they were convicted, they would be facing the possibility of prison time and this deal gives them a way to have a clean record by September 2018. In a system without certainty, they had to go the risk-averse route.
Second, Ms. Roberts Musser is completely ignoring the McGregor Scott report. No one knows for sure what is going to be in it.
Last week, Chief Darren Pytel told the Vanguard that the investigation has been completed, they are simply waiting to finish analyzing the findings and writing it up.
Interestingly enough, the city is unaware at this time what Mr. Scott has found. It is in this sense a truly independent report and the city is awaiting it just as we are.
More than the restorative justice process which most likely will be a private exchange between the officers and the defendants, the McGregor Scott report is where the next shoe will drop.
The criminal justice portion of this incident mostly concluded when the two sides agreed to the plea agreement. I can tell you, having talked to several of the defense attorneys – they were not satisfied. They took the deal they felt they had to take because the risk was too great if they went to trial, but I can tell you several of them were really agonizing over doing so.
They felt absolutely that their clients were mistreated by the police, that had their clients been young white people this entire incident would not have happened and that police interactions between the police and young white party-goers in Davis unfold very differently.
I am expecting that this report from McGregor Scott will be far more critical of the police involvement than many people are expecting. Because everything that occurred stemmed from that initial pull up. But that is what we are waiting on – the actual report to come out that will hopefully shed light on the incident, and hopefully the city of Davis allows the full report to come out for the public to evaluate for themselves.
—David M. Greenwald reporting