Profile of Pepper-Spraying Officer Pike: Ex-Marine, Twice Honored, Allegedly Used Anti-Gay Slur

(AP) John Pike, one of the UC Davis officers who pepper-sprayed student protesters last Friday, is a retired Marine sergeant who has been honored for his police work on campus, but he also figured in a discrimination lawsuit against the university.

He has risen swiftly through the ranks of the UC Davis police force over the past decade. As one of four lieutenants, the 39-year-old supervises more than one-third of the sworn officers, including the investigations unit.

He has twice been honored by the university for exceptional police work, including a 2006 incident in which he tackled a scissor-wielding hospital patient who was threatening fellow officers. Afterward, he said he decided against using pepper spray because it might harm his colleagues or other hospital patients.

But an alleged anti-gay slur by Pike also figured in a racial and sexual discrimination lawsuit a former police officer filed against the department, which ended in a $240,000 settlement in 2008. Officer Calvin Chang’s 2003 discrimination complaint against the university’s police chief and the UC Board of Regents alleged he was systematically marginalized as the result of anti-gay and racist attitudes on the force, and he specifically claimed Pike described him using a profane anti-gay epithet.

Katehi identified Pike as one of the officers involved in the pepper-spray incident in an interview with the campus television station Sunday, and university communications staff confirmed his role Tuesday.

As the controversy over the spraying incident has grown, images of the lieutenant have become the subject of a popular blog, which features his image superimposed on famous paintings and spraying famous figures, from Gandhi to John F. Kennedy. The handcraft site Etsy.com also is selling a T-shirt emblazoned with Pike’s image but showing flowers coming out of his spray can.

Over the weekend, the hacker group Anonymous, which is affiliated with the Occupy Wall Street protests, posted on its website Pike’s phone number and other personal details.

Pike did not immediately return a message left Tuesday at a home address listed in Roseville. It was not immediately known whether he had hired an attorney.

Dieter Dammeier, an Upland lawyer for the Federated University Police Officers Association, the union that represents UC Davis officers, said the operations plan issued by the department includes the use of pepper spray. Dammeier said he does not represent Pike because he is a manager.

“The officers were doing simply what they were instructed to do by upper management there,” Dammeier said, referring to police, not university, management. “So the officers are getting beat up pretty good out there, but they were simply doing what they were instructed to do.”

The administrator who oversees campus policing said the force has wide discretion in deciding how to respond to specific circumstances.

Given the sometimes violent events associated with Occupy demonstrations in downtown Oakland and UC Berkeley, UC Davis administrators did not want tents and encampments to take hold on campus because it would likely draw people who were not students, said John Meyer, vice chancellor for administrative and resource management.

He said a decision was made to allow the police to clear the tents.

“We didn’t think it was going to end as it ended,” Meyer said. “Once these actions begin however, there is great discretion for officers to make decisions in the field.”

Records show Pike joined the Marines in November 1989, and by the time he left, he had been promoted to sergeant.

In 2003, two years after Pike joined the campus police force, he received his first meritorious service award for using his patrol car to bump a suspect’s vehicle onto a local highway ramp, stopping the man from driving the wrong way.

Four years later, the university’s press office issued a release about accolades Pike received after subduing a UC Davis Medical Center patient who was threatening a fellow officer with scissors and a spray bottle filled with a caustic chemical.

Pike saw the scissors-wielding patient try to assault an officer and landed “a body block, powering his left shoulder” into her, the release said.

But in that situation, the 245-pound Pike opted not to use pepper spray, because he did not want to hurt his fellow officers, Pike said.

“You’ve got all these tools on your belt but sometimes they’re not the best tools,” Pike said.

Tuesday, state lawmakers announced they would hold a hearing on the pepper-spraying incident. Assembly Speaker John Perez sent a letter to University of California Board of Regents chairwoman Sherry Lansing and UC President Mark Yudof asking for a system-wide investigation.

“Students, parents and the public deserve to have answers to the myriad of troubling questions these incidents have raised,” Perez, D-Los Angeles, said in a statement.

Yudof later announced he had appointed former Los Angeles Police Chief William Bratton to review the UC Davis incident and provide “an independent, unvarnished report about what happened.”

He also appointed the university’s general counsel and the UC Berkeley law school dean to examine police protocols and policies at all 10 UC campuses, including discussions with students, faculty and staff.

Student government leaders on campus condemned the use of pepper spray on student protesters and called for Katehi to resign if she fails to enact reforms.

“Major reforms are needed because regardless of whoever is fired or resigns, it won’t mean anything if we don’t change policy and the way our institutions are run,” Adam Thongsavat, president of the Associated Students of the University of California, Davis, said in an interview. “That’s what’s going to affect students and campus policy and bring awareness.”

The student government passed a resolution Monday night calling on the state attorney general’s office to investigate campus police misconduct. The students are demanding police go through sensitivity training, seek more student representation and review policies on student protests.

Katehi has already asked the Yolo County district attorney’s office to investigate, and Chief Deputy District Attorney Jonathan Raven confirmed Tuesday that the department will look into the matter.

Attorney General Kamala Harris was deeply disturbed by the videos of the incident, spokeswoman Lynda Gledhill said Tuesday.

“She’s confident they will conduct a quick and thorough investigation of the matter,” Gledhill said.

On Tuesday, about 50 tents formed an encampment on the site where the pepper-spraying happened as students went about going to class. During her address during the evening town hall, Katehi said she sympathized with the feelings that are leading students to protest.

“I understand the frustration and anger students are feeling right now,” she said. “Our economy is in poor shape, employment prospects are the worst in decades and tuition has been increased a number of times.”

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