After more than two years of legal battles, The Sacramento Bee has prevailed in a court fight to force the release of the names of police officers involved in the November 2011 pepper spray incident on the University of California, Davis, campus.
The Bee and the Los Angeles Times sued in May 2012 to have the names released, and the case came to a close late Wednesday, when the California Supreme Court dismissed an appeal by the police officers’ union seeking to stop release of the names.
UC officials released the officers’ names late Thursday after giving the Federated University Police Officers Association time to notify the officers.
The issue stems from the fallout of the pepper-spraying of students during a peaceful protest on campus that raised international outrage. To deal with the outcry, UC officials asked for a full, independent report on the incident to be compiled by a task force headed by former state Supreme Court Justice Cruz Reynoso.
The 190-page Reynoso report was released in April 2012, but with the names of most officers redacted after the union went to court arguing that their identities should remain shielded from public view.
“We attempted to publish the full, unredacted report in March 2012, and the campus police officers’ union brought a lawsuit to keep us from doing so,” UC spokesman Steve Montiel said in a statement. “We have complied with the courts’ judgments and orders.
“Now that the state Supreme Court has dismissed the union’s final appeal, we are prepared to release the unredacted report. The union asked for the opportunity to make a good-faith effort to notify the affected officers today before doing so, and we have complied with that request.”
The release of the unredacted report, available at www.sacbee.com, names at least 17 officers who were involved in the incident along with then-Lt. John Pike, whose image went viral when he was videotaped pepper-spraying students seated on the ground. Some of the other officer names have been revealed in the past, but Thursday’s release marks the first time that many of the names have been made public.
Officer Alex Lee is named in the report as the second officer who deployed pepper spray at Pike’s direction. Pike was subsequently fired, despite a recommendation that he face discipline but be kept on the job. Lee is no longer listed in a state salary database as working at UC Davis.
Other officers are named in passages simply describing their duties or actions that day, or in some cases describing the challenges they felt.
“What we were going to do was to remove the tents from the Quad,” Sgt. Paul Henoch is quoted as saying in an interview.
But the Reynoso report does not include the names of all the officers who were present Nov. 18, 2011, according to separate, confidential documents obtained by The Bee.
Those documents, part of the internal affairs investigation that led to Pike’s firing, indicate 28 officers were interviewed about events that day and include dramatic interviews with 21 of them as they describe the fear they felt at times from the crowd.
“I was thinking, ‘Man, we don’t have enough officers for this,’ ” Officer Kevin Skaife says in the confidential documents. “At the point when we’re encircled, I’m thinking, ‘This is horrible, this is really bad …’ ”
“I was actually frightened,” Officer Ruben Arias told investigators, according to the 76-page confidential report. “I was actually frightened in the sense of I didn’t know what the crowd was doing, what they’re capable of, and it wasn’t the peaceful crowd that everyone thought it was. They were really agitated.”
Many of the officer comments reflect a feeling that they believed the protesters posed a threat to them. The officers had gone to the university quad that afternoon after Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi ordered police to remove tents that had been set up as part of a protest against tuition hikes and by supporters of the Occupy movement that was then sweeping the nation.
Katehi has said she wanted the police to remove the tents peacefully and was shocked at the use of pepper spray, but came in for fierce criticism in the wake of the incident, which led to the resignation of Police Chief Annette Spicuzza.
The incident cost the university millions of dollars in investigative and legal fees, including $1 million paid out as part of the settlement of a lawsuit brought by 21 students hit with pepper spray.
Although the student names have been public since shortly after the incident, Thursday marked the first official release of officers’ names in Reynoso’s investigation.
Other officers named in both the Reynoso report and the confidential documents obtained by The Bee are: Lt. Barry Swartwood, Officers Jason Barrera, Bill Beermann, Justin Brewer, Raymond Sutera, Danny Sheffield, Joanne Zekany, Moaz Ahmad, Brian Halley, Vincent Kwong, Mikkio McCullough and Robert Sotelo. Another officer is named in the Reynoso report only by last name and is listed as having “no comments” for investigators; an officer with that same surname is listed in the confidential documents.
UC spokesmen could not explain why all of the officers named in the confidential documents were not included in the Reynoso report. However, that report was designed to provide a narrative of the events of the incident and may not have named everyone interviewed.
Call The Bee’s Sam Stanton, (916) 321-1091.