Judge orders officers' names redacted in UC Davis pepper spray report
By: By Hudson Sangree and Sam Stanton
Published: Thu, 03/29 @ 12:00AM
Citing extraordinary harassment of police Lt. John Pike, a judge decided Wednesday that two reports on the pepper-spray incident at the University of California, Davis, can be released only with the names of most other officers redacted.
Release of the documents may still be weeks off, depending on whether appeals are filed in the case.
But Alameda Superior Court Judge Evelio M. Grillo made it clear during a hearing in Oakland that he does not want more police officers' names released.
Grillo noted that Pike, who has become known worldwide through video of him pepper-spraying students and demonstrators Nov. 18, has been bombarded with more than 10,000 text messages, 17,000 emails and an array of food, magazines, and products ordered in his name and delivered to his home.
The judge said individuals ordered items from just about "every joint in Davis" after Pike's name and cellphone number became available on the Internet shortly after the incident.
"Given the history of threats and harassment, the potential harm to other officers from disclosing their participation in the Incident is far from speculative," Grillo wrote in his tentative ruling issued Wednesday morning.
The pepper-spray controversy erupted after Occupy UC Davis students and supporters set up a tent encampment on campus to protest rising college costs.
When demonstrators refused to disperse, Pike and other campus police officers used pepper spray on a group of protesters who had linked arms and were sitting on the ground, even as dozens videotaped their actions.
Amid a worldwide backlash, UC Davis Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi said she never would have approved police moving on the students if she had known force would be used.
She then requested an investigation overseen by a task force headed by former state Supreme Court Justice Cruz Reynoso that produced the reports that landed in Grillo's court.
The union for campus police had filed suit claiming the reports could not be released with officers' names or information that could be considered derogatory because that would violate laws forbidding the release of personnel-related information.
The judge did not buy that argument, saying the reports do not contain personnel or confidential information.
"Most of the Report is a compilation of public information that would have been available to an investigative journalist or member of the public who took the time and expended the effort to make a Public Records Act request, review videos posted on YouTube and elsewhere, and locate and interview witnesses," Grillo wrote.
The judge also rejected arguments that the reports amount to a de facto internal affairs investigation because, he said, they are not based on citizens' complaints and do not recommend disciplinary actions against officers.
"The Report is a policy-level document that makes policy-level recommendations," he wrote. The reports examine how decisions were made leading up to the incident, assign responsibility to individual administrators and officers, and suggest changes in officer training, the judge said in his ruling.
But Grillo said he wanted to protect other officers from what Pike faced and ruled that their privacy interests under the California Constitution allow for him to have their names shielded.
"Redact the names," Grillo said in court. "Once you redact the names, the report can be disclosed by the university."
The judge noted that two officers' names have been released already Pike and campus police Chief Annette Spicuzza and there is no need to keep them private.
But there are 15 to 20 other officers who were interviewed or are subject to review of their actions who are currently named in the report.
The report by Reynoso, which totals more than 100 pages and is said to be critical of both the police and university administrators, is based on interviews done by the Kroll security and consulting group. Kroll's findings were detailed in a separate document attached to the Reynoso report.
Reynoso wants to release both the report and those interviews, but the court action by the Federated University Police Officers Association stalled the plans to unveil the documents March 6.
Charles Robinson, UC general counsel, said there are five officers under a separate internal affairs investigation, but only Pike and Spicuzza have been named publicly.
Another attorney arguing for the university, Dan Sharp, said it was important for the findings to be released to restore trust among the UC Davis community.
"People are very curious about this report and they want answers," Sharp told the judge at the hearing.
The judge said portions of the report and the Kroll interviews that do not deal with the police can be released immediately, but that the rest must be withheld at least for three weeks to allow for appeals to be filed.
Reynoso has said he wants the report released all at once and without redactions.
Robinson said he did not know whether an appeal would be filed, and added that he would confer with Reynoso about the potential timing of a release.
None of the lawyers involved for the university, the union or the American Civil Liberties Union could say Wednesday whether they would file any appeals.
"No clue," said John Bakhit, attorney for the police union.
But, Bakhit added, "We do consider it a win."