When the video emerged of UC Davis Police Lt. John Pike casually applying pepper spray to the faces of seated student protesters as if engaging in an activity of no more weight than hosing off a sidewalk, his entry in the Annals of Excessive Policing, for a great many, was instantly sealed.
So iconic had the image of the man perfunctorily letting loose with his little bottle of crowd-controller become, that in a matter of days (or was it hours?) an Internet meme took hold in which photos of Pike in action were superimposed into famous paintings and other visual media.
So…what was Pike thinking? The Reynoso Task Force Report, which found much fault with the university’s response to the Nov 18 protest, also specifically addressed the actions of Pike.
Here’s that section of the report, which makes no bones about its conclusion with the sub-head “Lt. Pike Bears Primary Responsibility for the Objectively Unreasonable Decision to Use Pepper Spray on the Students Sitting in a Line and for the Manner in Which the Pepper Spray Was Used .” The Kroll report cited refers to the investigation of Kroll Consulting, which was contracted to review the police response.
From the Reynoso Task Force Report:
We agree with Kroll’s conclusion that Lieutenant Pike’s use of force in pepper spraying seated protesters was objectively unreasonable.
Some of the officers Kroll interviewed reported their subjective belief that, during the Nov. 18 incident, the crowd was hostile, they were surrounded, and they were at risk of losing their prisoners. On cursory review, the testimonial, photographic, and video evidence showing that in fact a crowd had partially encircled the police and was shouting chants like “If you let them go, we will let you leave” may appear to support that contention.
However, a more careful review reveals several facts that conflict with that belief and which the commanders should have known. For instance, there were breaks in the circle around the officers. Where the circle was unbroken, the line was often still only one- or two-people deep, some of whom were seated, and many of whom may have been observers — crowding around to see what would happen — not protesters.
Also, the more hostile chants were cut off by the majority of the crowd almost as quickly as they had started. Nor did they appear to reflect an actual intent by the crowd to prevent police from leaving with their prisoners. In fact, it was during one of the “If you let them go, we will let you leave” chants that Officer F was able to leave, escorting an arrestee to an awaiting police car by simply walking him straight through the crowd, without incident or force escalation. Officer F then returned and escorted another arrestee out through the crowd, again without incident. Both of the ranking officers in charge of the operation, Lt. Pike and Officer P, were also able to move through the crowd freely, stepping over seated protesters on at least three occasions and just minutes before Lt. Pike sprayed those same protesters with pepper spray.
Nor did Kroll identify objective evidence of any attempt by a protester to use violence.
We agree with Kroll: on balance, the evidence does not provide an objective, factual basis for Lt. Pike’s purported
Pike, by the way, was not interviewed by Kroll. The San Francisco Chronicle reports the firm’s “investigators were unable to interview [Pike] because the district attorney is considering prosecution, said Pike’s attorney, John Bakhit. Pike submitted a police report in December, some weeks after he was placed on paid leave, which Kroll investigators studied.”
KQED’s Ana Tintocalis today talked to Judge Reynoso, who chaired the UC Davis task force. Reynoso said he’s “anxious to get the word out because the pepper spray incident shouldn’t have happened,” but he said he wouldn’t be talking to the media until after today’s presentation of the findings at a public meeting at UC Davis. You can watch that here at 3:30 p.m.