Arguing that the public has a right to know the names of the police officers involved in the November pepper-spray incident at UC Davis, The Bee and the Los Angeles Times sued Wednesday to force disclosure of their identities.
The suit was filed in Sacramento Superior Court against the University of California Board of Regents to force the release of officer names that were redacted from a task force study of the incident released in April.
The newspapers argued in court papers that the state Supreme Court has repeatedly found that "keeping secret the names of public employees does not serve the public interest ... ."
"In particular, the idea that government agents can anonymously plan and execute operations using chemical weapons against protesters in the public square is antithetical to the most fundamental notions of democracy, which depend upon public scrutiny of official conduct," the suit said. "The Regents' withholding of the names of the officers also contradicts California law, which requires officers to wear name tags on their uniforms."
The pepper-spray task force, headed by former state Supreme Court Justice Cruz Reynoso, originally included in its report the names of all officers involved in the incident. All but two of the names were subsequently redacted after a successful court fight waged by the Federated University Police Officers Association, the union representing campus officers.
The names of Annette Spicuzza, then the UC Davis police chief, and Lt. John Pike, whose identity became widely known after he was filmed pepper-spraying students and protesters, were included in the report released to the public.
Both were placed on paid leave after the pepper-spraying incident. Spicuzza retired in April after the Reynoso report was released and sharply criticized the police force; Pike remains on paid leave pending an internal affairs investigation.
Following the release of the redacted report, The Bee and the Times sought all the officers' names through requests made under the California Public Records Act.
UC officials rejected the requests, citing an injunction that halted release of the names.
UC officials had no comment Wednesday, and John Bakhit, the police union attorney who won the battle to redact officers' names, did not respond to a request for comment.
Reynoso, UC President Mark G. Yudof and UC Davis Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi all have said previously that they wanted as much of the the Reynoso report released as possible. But, after several delays, the report was publicly released only after the deal reached in court was struck to redact some names.
UC Davis became the focus of worldwide scrutiny last fall when video clips of Pike calmly pepper-spraying a group of protesters who were seated on the ground, arms linked, spread across the Internet.
Pike and other officers had moved in on the demonstrators after Occupy UC Davis students and other protesters rallying against tuition hikes refused to take down their tent encampment.
The incident spawned numerous investigations, reviews and policy changes that still are under way.