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  • Wayne Tilcock / The (Davis) Enterprise file, 2011

    This Nov. 18, 2011, photo shows former UC Davis police Lt. John Pike using pepper spray on campus to move Occupy protesters.

  • Bruce Maiman is a former radio show host who lives in Rocklin. Reach him at brucemaiman@gmail.com.

Viewpoints: Workers' comp for cop in pepper spraying?

Published: Tuesday, Jul. 30, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 9A
Last Modified: Tuesday, Jul. 30, 2013 - 10:53 am

If former UC Davis Police Lt. John Pike wants workers' compensation over the infamous pepper-spraying incident of 2011, here's a modest suggestion: Get a job.

As we learned last week, Pike is seeking compensation for psychiatric injury he claims to have suffered after notoriously dousing a line of student protesters in the face with military-grade pepper spray.

Let's not rehash old arguments here. Whether you think Pike was right or wrong, or whether you think the students were right or wrong, it's irrelevant. This is about someone making a workers' comp claim. All that matters in assessing the merits of that claim at next month's settlement conference in Sacramento is the official record, not your opinion. The record is this:

• The internal affairs panel concluded that protesters had surrounded police and threatened their safety. The panel deemed Pike's actions "reasonable."

• However, investigators from Kroll Associates Inc., an outside security firm, and a task force led by former California Supreme Court Justice Cruz Reynoso, found that protesters and a crowd of onlookers neither entirely surrounded police nor threatened their safety. It's hardly credible to claim you're surrounded or trapped and that protesters blocked your path when you're easily stepping over and around them, as Pike did, in order to pepper-spray them.

• The pepper spray, MK-9, wasn't sanctioned by the department, nor were officers trained in its use; Pike demonstrated that lack of training when he incorrectly sprayed protesters from close range.

• The task force and Kroll reports noted that Pike strongly disagreed with then-Chief Annette Spicuzza, who had insisted on using "a minimum amount of force" and that officers not wear riot helmets or carry batons. It was only after the incident commander turned over his authority to Pike that Pike decided to use pepper spray. Why did he use pepper spray when he wasn't trained or authorized to do so?

• Eight months later, Chief Matt Carmichael, who replaced Spicuzza, fired Pike for disobeying Spicuzza's orders and performing "poorly" when he took control of the scene from the incident commander.

Should you get workers' comp if you're fired for insubordination?

It's a perfect example of what's wrong with the public employee system. No matter how justified a firing might be, there's always a loophole to exploit.

Pike, who told investigators there was nothing he'd do differently if faced with the same circumstances again, is claiming "psychiatric injury" due to scores of threats made against him and his family, but those threats wouldn't have happened had Pike obeyed orders.

"It's not that the university subjected him to ridicule and should therefore be held responsible for whatever stress he's enduring," said Alexis Briggs, a San Francisco-based attorney who represented the so-called "Davis Dozen" students who were initially charged with blocking the campus branch of U.S. Bank weeks after the pepper-spraying incident.

"He, by his own actions, has subjected himself to that stress," Briggs told me.

"He's got an avenue for those threats," Louise Wilson, Briggs' mother and a retired workers' comp analyst for the insurance industry and the State Compensation Insurance Fund, told me. "He can go to the police, have those people identified and deal with them through the law, not workers' comp."

This raises questions about personal responsibility and accepting the consequences of your actions. Pike is suffering the consequences of his own decisions.

Should people have threatened and harassed Pike? Heck no. "They're guilty of their own criminal conduct," Briggs said.

I'd love to hold them accountable by forcing them to compensate Pike. Sadly, they benefit from the cloak of anonymity, not unlike how people make repellent comments online while hiding behind an avatar and fictitious screen name.

"The school lost a million-dollar lawsuit because of his actions," Briggs noted. "If his actions were so justified and were so within the scope of his duties, why would they pay a million dollars for the damages caused by his actions?"

Perhaps because a settlement is cheaper than a trial?

Briggs countered: "Based on dealing with discovery with the university, my feeling is they weren't interested in subjecting themselves to the discovery process to make their processes transparent."

Which makes me wonder: Pike could win his case, perhaps via lawsuit if necessary – because it's easier, and it keeps secrets secret.

Currently, Pike, 40, is entitled to retirement credit for his years of service. If granted, workers' compensation would provide him with disability benefits covering income, health and other benefits until age 65, all at taxpayer expense.

Bad idea. Granting compensation would set a dangerous precedent: You'd no longer have an inducement to do the right thing. It's a precedent that says you can do the wrong thing on the job – any job – and still be compensated. Anyone think that's a good idea?

Sorry, Mr. Pike. You made your own bed here. I say, "A river. Cry me it." I hear pepper spray can help with that.

Bruce Maiman is a former radio host who lives in Rocklin. Reach him at brucemaiman@gmail.com.

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Read more articles by Bruce Maiman



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